Page last updated at 03:55 GMT, Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Think tank calls for 'home MOTs'

By Pallab Ghosh
Science correspondent, BBC News

London skyline (BBC)
Buildings account for half of the UK's energy consumption

The government's science think tank has proposed that homes in the UK should have regular MOT-type energy check ups.

The think tank, Foresight, is to release a report suggesting a number of radical ways to meet the UK's green goals over the next 50 years.

The report calls for less centralised, more small-scale energy production.

It will also suggests using "intelligent metering" in homes and businesses, to show the real-time costs of different types of energy.

Energy efficiency assessments of buildings - which account for half of all energy use - would also help meet the targets for CO2 emissions.

The report says that the UK is "locked-in" to using certain forms of energy, and leading energy experts say that radical solutions are needed if the UK is to diversify its energy use, to meet its target of reducing CO2 emissions by 2020.

Buildings account for about half the country's energy use - and so should be the government's main focus in trying to reduce CO2 emissions. But it has had limited success in persuading businesses and home owners to become more energy efficient.

The Foresight report says this is down to inertia. Customers and suppliers they say are locked in to centralised energy production and inefficient consumption.


The report calls for incentives to encourage greener local energy production and more effective measures to get consumers to use less energy.

Options put forward include intelligent metering which show the true cost of gas and electricity and more regular energy efficiency assessments of homes and businesses, which the report describes as "an MOT for buildings".

You need meters connected to the electricity supply network getting real-time information about energy costs
Jim Watson, Sussex University

"Rather than making roads safer, these would make our future climate safer," says Professor Yvonne Rydin from University College London and one of the report's authors.

"One of the problems is that people are not fully aware of the energy they are using and the cost of that energy to themselves and to the planet."

The Foresight team is led by Professor John Beddington, the government's chief scientist. He says that an MOT-type energy assessment could be tied to penalties and incentives to encourage homeowners and businesses to adopt energy-saving technologies.

"There's potential for a stick-and-carrot approach perhaps regulation that links rateable values [of homes and commercial premises] to energy emissions," he says.

'Dumb' smart meters

The report looks specifically at ways of making energy use much more visible. As well as energy assessments, the expert committee recommended greater and better use of smart metering of energy use.

But the problem, according to Professor Jim Watson of Sussex University, is that currently smart meters aren't very smart.

"You can have the most exciting digital display you like but if it can't display what the electricity or gas costs are at different times of day - which they can't at the moment - then it's a 'dumb' smart meter," he says.

Electricity meter (BBC)
Meters will have to do a lot more than show total consumption

"In order for it to be fully smart you need meters connected to the electricity supply network getting real-time information about energy costs."

The report also says that current regulations suit big energy companies rather than encouraging smaller, local providers - a concept they call "lock-in".

According to Professor Beddington, imaginative and radical ideas need to be explored if CO2 levels are to be cut 80% by 2050. As well as harnessing technology, he says, policy makers need to think about encouraging a cultural shift in attitudes to make wasting energy as anti-social as smoking.

"I think there is scope for changing this," Professor Beddington says.

"I think with the appreciation of the population of the real issues of climate change - and the real dangers that the failure to address it bring with it - there is a potential that you will get a change in social attitudes and I think that will be enormously important".

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