Feeling the cold

What freezings have I felt, what dark days seen,
What old December’s bareness everywhere!

Does this Government know what it’s doing when it comes to encouraging energy efficiency and moving the country towards a low carbon economy?

I’m inclined to say, No, it doesn’t. Anymore than the previous administration really did.

We’ve got a furore over the FITs tariff cut, messing around with the RHI and don’t even get me started on the mess that the Green Deal is likely to be. Possibly, if the previous Government hadn’t set the tariff rate so high in the first place, we would have had a slower, more steady growth in the PV and renewable industry, making it ore manageable and better value all round.

It seems the Government is pretty good at deciding where it wants to be in 40 years’ time, but absolutely rubbish at working out a) how we are going to get there and b) what happens in the short t- medium term.

The idea that we will have cut our carbon emissions by 80% by 2050 is ludicrously long-term. What we need is a simple, easy to operate, easy to understand system that will help to reduce energy usage and therefore carbon emissions today, tomorrow, next week, next month and every month between now and 2050.

We had one once upon a time. The Boiler Scrappage Scheme wasn’t perfect, there things never are. But it was simple to understand and it helped to change things. It helped to remove some inefficient Band G boilers and replace them with much better, more efficient and cheaper to run Band A boilers.

And, what’s more, it did it in such a way that it wasn’t hijacked by the energy companies. It brought in business all through the supply chain, from independent installers through the plumbers and builders merchants to the manufacturers. Simples.

There are calls for it to be re-introduced but the chances of this are pretty minimal. This government is not a fan of scrappage schemes. At the CPA lunch a few years ago, I asked the (then shadow), Housing Minister Grant Shapps whether he would be signing the Early Day Motion in support of the scheme. He told me that he wouldn’t because he didn’t believe that scrappage schemes work.

That was the lunch at which he set out his vision for the Green Deal – which would see all of us purchasing our insulation from Marks and Spencers along with our socks, pants and ready-meals.

There’s no doubt that we need to change – and I’m the global we, not just in this country – our dependence on fossil fuels and our consumption if we are to secure the long term future of the planet. The National Treasure ™ that is David Attenborough said as much on the last episode of the formidable Frozen Planet TV show. It’s telling that this final episode, broadcast here last week, was not shown by the US TV networks that had shown the rest of the series.

But you can’t change the world all in one go and to make something really work, you need to change people’s behaviour and expectations in such a way that they don’t really know they’re being changed.

And changing behaviour needs to be incentivised. Sadly, saving the planet in 40 years time isn’t going to be enough for householders today, in the here and now. They need something that gives them a reason to change. Cheaper gas and electricity bills might be one incentive. But they might not be enough.

About Fiona Russell-Horne

Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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