Friday, June 5, 2015

Energy efficiency - no longer the Cinderella?

David Frise, BESA Head of Sustainability

Legislation underpinning improved energy security was one of the headline announcements in this week’s Queen’ Speech that heralded the start of the new parliamentary year.

A new Energy Bill promising “affordable and reliable energy for businesses and families” was one of 28 listed in Her Majesty’s address. Among other things, it will create an independent Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) “charged with the asset stewardship and regulation of domestic oil and gas recovery”.

While it is clearly positive that this is being given such high priority, I wonder what the government thinks it means by energy security. The best way to improve energy security is to use less of it. There is an enormous, tantalising target to aim for in cutting energy use in the UK’s 1.8 million existing commercial buildings that account for 17% of the country’s entire carbon emissions while also ensuring all new constructions have energy reducing measures built in.

However, this does not appear to be what the planned Bill is addressing. It proposes to transfer the regulatory powers of the new Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Amber Rudd, to this OGA – a new body that seems primarily concerned with energy production and regulation.

Where does energy efficiency lie in this new structure?

A new bill proposed by renewable energy groups shortly after the Queen’s Speech will hopefully prompt Ms Rudd to look at more building focused solutions and energy efficiency which has the potential to reduce the country’s overall energy bill by £12bn.

This could be an early initiative for the new Minister for Energy Efficiency Lord Bourne to consider. The very fact such a Cabinet post has been created and that the Prime Minister has appointed a respected peer to fill it augurs well and suggests energy efficiency may no longer be the Cinderella topic it has been up to now. However, the lack of focus on energy efficiency in the Queen’s Speech shows there is still some distance to travel.

The new minister also has a tough in-tray as he has been handed the poisoned chalices of theGreen Deal and the misfiring Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) – along with the not inconsequential subject of fuel poverty.

At B&ES we will continue to ‘bang the drum’ for energy saving measures and to promote the clear business benefits to commercial building users of investing in demand reduction, but the new administration must avoid the mistakes of the past few years including the ham fisted proposal to abolish Display Energy Certificates (DECs) just a few weeks before the General Election.

We will give the new administration all the help it needs and I suspect that might, in the first instance, involve another attempt at explaining the concept of energy efficiency in buildings.

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