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BEIS watchdog demands building energy efficiency be prioritised

Select committee is praised for urging government to make energy efficiency of UK building stock a national infrastructure priority as part of wider scrutiny of net zero carbon policy

Calls from parliament’s Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee to make improving the energy efficiency of UK buildings into a national infrastructure priority have been welcomed by the National Energy Action (NEA) charity.

The committee’s calls were published last week in a new report looking at efficiency in the UK’s building stock. Warnings of major shortfalls in policy concerning heating policy and insulation were said by the watchdog to have set back the government’s ability to meet its target to eliminate carbon emissions entirely by 2050.

The committee’s report therefore backed introducing a major national programme on building energy efficiency that would support widescale improvements to insulation and draught proofing in homes, as well as embracing smarter appliances and alternative heat systems.

NEA chief executive Adam Scorer said the findings showed that setting a clear policy on tackling energy efficiency would ensure a more viable path to transform the UK into a net zero carbon economy, while also tackling fuel poverty in homes.

He said, “Domestic energy efficiency may be a ‘no-brainer’, but the policies that will make it happen too often seem beyond our imagination. That has to change. We agree with the committee that improving the efficiency of homes is a vital national infrastructure priority, that the UK Government must address its over-reliance on energy company schemes and that we need a national fund to complement and compensate for existing programmes.”

Committee’s shines spotlight on net zero

The Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee has in recent weeks undertaken a number of focuses looking at the issue of energy efficiency in buildings, as well as the sufficiency of existing BEIS policy with regard to realising aims of the government’s decarbonisation strategy.

A key conclusion from the committee in its latest report was that decarbonised heat and improved energy efficiency in homes and a variety of other UK buildings was an interlinked challenge.

The energy efficiency report stated, “Low carbon heat cannot be deployed cost-effectively unless buildings are properly insulated— regardless of the technology pursued, such as with heat pumps, hybrid systems and hydrogen.”

“Energy efficiency is therefore a core element of the heat decarbonisation pathway.”

Academic research cited in the committee’s report said that national energy demand could be curbed up around 25 per cent of recent levels by 2035 if investment in efficiency improvements and lower carbon heating can be realised. The data said that the anticipated reductions would be equivalent to the power output of Six Hinkley Point C power stations.

The publication of the report by the committee was followed by a separate evidence session this week with MP Chris Skidmore, interim minister of state for energy and clean growth, to discuss the challenges facing BEIS in meeting national climate change targets.

Questions raised with the minister by committee members included a range of challenges to infrastructure, transport and society posed by efforts to realise net zero carbon emissions.

Enforcement concerns

Committee member Anna Turley asked the department about the limited means currently available for enforcing the requirements of the Climate Change Act and ensuring provisions such as carbon reduction targets can be met both by government and industry.

With the net zero targets now enshrined in law and a new bill being introduced into parliament that seeks to create an Office for Environmental Protection (OEP), the MP asked Tim Lord, director of Clean Growth policy at BEIS, why this proposed body would not have a remit to enforce climate change targets.

Mr Lord argued that the Climate Change Act was devised to be a robust piece of legislation that had been being copied by other governments. The committee was told that additional scrutiny of the legislation and its effectiveness was provided through the role of the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), which offers independent advice on government policy.

However, he added that consideration was being given to ensuring the net zero target now be considered under the scope of any OEP, while others mechanism of ensuring independent enforcement for key Clean Growth targets was also being considered.

This could see the creation of new means of holding buildings and HVAC functions to stricter standards around emissions and energy efficiency.

Chris Skidmore accepted that the committee’s concerns about enforcing how these standards are enforced and upheld were valid in determining how to realise a net zero carbon UK.

He told the committee, “When it comes to the next stage of understanding how we can enforce some of the measures. We’ve been able to go so far with using market mechanisms and the next stage will be looking where an increased regulatory approach will be most suitable.

Committee chair MP Rachel Reeves closed the session by echoing recent concerns from the influential Committee on Climate Change (CCC) on the need to setting out much clearer policy on a range of issues concerning buildings, infrastructure and transport that will be vital to the net zero goals.

She said, “Now that your targets have changed minister, so must your policies change as well.”

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