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Tackling the existing building stock as a real energy policy priority

By Mari Martiskainen and Florian Kern, Centre on Innovation and Energy Demand, SPRU

Those familiar with the UK’s energy efficiency policy for buildings are aware that back in 2006 the then Labour government announced that all new domestic buildings would need to be ‘zero carbon’ from 2016 to help meet the government’s energy and climate change ambitions. To support this goal, a Code for sustainable homes was announced at the same time against which new buildings would be rated. At the time of the announcement not many people actually knew what a zero carbon building would mean in practice. As a result, government and industry jointly set up a non-profit organisation called the Zero Carbon Hub in 2008 to work together towards realising zero carbon buildings.

As Andrew Warren, Honorary President of the Association for the Conservation of Energy, writes in his ‘New hub needed to focus on existing buildings’€ article for the October issue of Energy in Buildings and Industry , the Zero Carbon Hub ‘has proved to be the acknowledged entity to which everyone turns; companies and Ministers alike; to consider how best to progress towards ensuring that only the most energy- and carbon-efficient new buildings are constructed’. Warren is now calling for a similar hub to be created to deal with the upgrade of the UK’s 26 million existing buildings, most of which will still be around for the next 40 years. Since the UK has one of the poorest housing stocks in Europe and despite a long history of policies aimed at tackling the energy efficiency of existing buildings, much remains to be done. We at the Centre on Innovation and Energy Demand have been undertaking research analysing the mix of the UK’s policy instruments aimed at building energy efficiency in the past five years. Our initial analysis shows that there is a lot to be learnt from the failure of existing policies such as the Green Deal which addresses the current building stock but has seen a poor uptake. Ed Davey, the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, announced an extra £100 million for the Green Deal Home Improvement Fund on 7th October 2014, but there is still a lack of a long-term strategic solution to improving the UK’s existing housing stock. In terms of new buildings, the zero carbon policy provides an actual regulatory requirement, whereas there is not a similar pressure towards upgrading the existing stock.

As many of our stakeholder interviewees have indicated, there seems to be a lack of coherence in terms of who is dealing with building energy efficiency within government. Having two different government departments, the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) and the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), addressing different parts of building energy efficiency can create unnecessary confusions for those working in the sector. For example DCLG have to deliver under the EU Energy Performance and Buildings Directive, while DECC is responsible for the UK meeting its carbon budgets. Furthermore, there is a call for more joined up thinking in terms of realising the benefits that better integrated policies addressing energy efficiency and renewables could have such as ensuring that Green Deal assessments are fully required and followed up with upgraded thermal efficiency before the Renewable Heat Incentive or Feed-in-Tariffs are applied for.

We agree with Warren that there is a need for a more coherent voice and centre of expertise to facilitate the upgrading of the UK’s existing building stock. As Warren notes ‘creating an acknowledged hub for existing buildings would provide a single point of reference for this long-established sector’€. However, we argue that such a hub should not just be a joint collaboration between industry and government, but should also include other non-governmental organisations who have long called and campaigned for the upgrade of the existing housing stock. It should also have clear synergies with existing bodies like the Energy Saving Trust, the Carbon Trust and the UK Green Building Council. In addition, such a hub might be particularly effective if linked up with a major programme of the Green Investment Bank (like the ones by the KfW bank in Germany) as both Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Ed Davey and Shadow Energy Secretary Caroline Flint now agree that energy efficiency is part of our national infrastructure priorities. To make tackling the existing housing stock a political priority is the first step. The second step then should be to have a broad discussion on what sort of hub would be desirable to help facilitate this major infrastructure programme. Andrew Warren’s suggestion is a good starting point for this debate.