As the dust around the Budget settles, it is becoming clear that Government policy on support for energy-saving initiatives is changing radically.
In one sense, the move away from broad brief and enthusiastic, if chaotic, support for sustainability initiatives signals an attempt to simplify and rationalise government strategy. But the net effect is loss of financial backing for some important green policies together with confusing signals to businesses and consumers.
There are also warnings from government advisors that the effect of the changes will threaten the ability to deliver agreed carbon emissions reductions after 2020.
The Department of Energy and Climate Change is readying cuts totalling £70 million from its budget this year with the stress of that mainly falling on schemes to help households save energy. Reports this week suggest that The Green Deal Home Improvement Fund (GDHIF) and the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) could be axed or shrunk.
In the wake of this, it seems that consumers, businesses and organisations will need to galvanise themselves to act, rather than wait for further government support, and move quickly to adopt energy saving measures to cut bills and carbon emissions.
Cut energy bills
As we’ve long argued, there are some highly cost-effective ways to bring down energy bills and shrink carbon footprint permanently, from LED lighting to water-saving solutions like eco showers, eco taps and tap aerators, as well as smart lighting controls, HVAC controls and smart heat pumps. All of these offer quick payback and ongoing savings.
The news on threats to the Green Deal and RHI follows a string of announcements around green strategy in the UK that indicate a significant change in attitude, including the decision to ditch the standard for zero carbon homes, which would have put pressure on house builders to ensure all news homes were zero carbon by 2016.
That surprising development followed the government’s decision to end subsidies to onshore wind development a year early and a warning this week from Amber Rudd, the secretary of state for energy and climate change that she was “looking carefully” at solar subsidies.
DECC spending will be set out in the Spending Review this autumn and it is developing a new operating model that, according to Ms Rudd, will allow it “to work in a smarter, more focused and efficient manner”. That includes keeping the lights on while energy production capacity is under continued pressure from plant decommissioning.
Science and innovation
And it might not be such a surprise that rickety schemes like the Green Deal, which attracted much criticism about their uptake and effectiveness, are likely to be ended. Reports suggest that the Green Deal grant scheme might cease after the current phase ends in 2017 while spending reductions through the RHI could be announced in the light of disappointing take-up of renewable heat technologies.
The imperative for DECC to work with constrained resources further reinforces doubts about the ability or will to support measures that are essential components in a longer-term strategy for carbon reduction and energy-efficiency.
A study from the Green Alliance suggests that continued government cuts threaten support for carbon capture and storage (CCS) demonstration projects, and other science and innovation, while decimating energy efficiency spending and casting doubts over smart metering and electricity market reform.
The Government has reiterated its commitment to helping businesses and households keep control of their energy bills. With that in mind, the reduction in renewable energy subsidies could help but it is a very short term activity, like switching suppliers. Better to develop a truly comprehensive programme of energy efficiency that targets businesses, organisations and homes through solutions that are proven to work.