In order to avoid the worst impacts of climate change global carbon emissions must be reduced substantially over the coming decades (United Nations, 2013). Increasing energy efficiency, reducing the amount of energy required to provide products and services, can lead to substantial reductions in carbon emissions in conjunction with the adoption of low carbon forms of energy generation such as various renewable technologies (Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, 2013). As well as its benefits in terms of reducing carbon emissions energy efficiency can have substantial economic benefits, for example, renewable energy and energy efficiency installation in the United States now employs more people than the coal industry (Rocky Mountain Institute, 2013). Improving energy efficiency has even helped a number of countries to achieve considerable economic growth whist reducing carbon emissions; Denmark, for example, achieved a 66% increase in the size of its economy between 1980 and 2009 whilst reducing carbon emissions by 21% and returning energy use to its 1980 level by promoting energy efficiency and the use of renewable technology (Rocky Mountain Institute, 2013).
The context of the UK
The UK government plans to reduce carbon emissions by 80% by 2050 (DECC, 2013). A large proportion of UK energy consumption is from domestic use, accounting for over 25% of UK carbon emissions with more energy used in housing than for industry or road transport. The UK also has a very inefficient domestic sector with low levels of housing insulation. This provides a great deal of scope to reduce the UK’s total carbon emissions by increasing the efficiency of energy usage of the UK housing stock (Palmer & Cooper, 2011).
Government Policy: In response to these issues the UK government is promoting greater energy efficiency for the commercial and domestic building sectors with a number of measures such as the ‘Green Deal’ Scheme (Moran, 2013) and a policy for all new housing in the UK built from 2016 to be zero carbon (Pitt, 2013).
Concerns about government policy: There have been concerns about the effectiveness of schemes such as the level of market penetration that the Green Deal can achieve. Issues have also been raised with the practical feasibility of making all new housing in the UK zero carbon by 2016 due to the scale of the task and delays in government policy (Harvey, 2013).
Increasing the energy efficiency of buildings is pivotal in reducing carbon emissions and additionally can provide a number of economic advantages saving businesses and households money in a difficult economic environment. There is a great deal of support for increasing energy efficiency internationally (United Nations Foundation, 2012) and from the UK government with financial and political support for schemes to increase energy efficiency, primarily of the UK’s housing stock. Providing there is continuing government support there appear to be a number of opportunities for individuals and companies to save money as consumers and commercially to develop new markets and increase employment.
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DECC, 2013. Policy: Reducing the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050. [Online]
Harvey, F., 2013. Zero-carbon home 'dithering' is threatening UK housing industry. [Online]
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, 2013. What is energy efficiency?. [Online]
Moran, G. 2013. The Green Deal - The Energy Efficiency Scheme launched by the British Government, [online] 2013. Available at: https://www.euenergycentre.org/component/content/article/214-the-green-deal-energy-efficiency-scheme-launched-by-the-british-government [Accessed 02/06/2013].
Palmer, S. & Cooper, I., 2011. Great Britain’s housing energy fact file, https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/48195/3224-great-britains-housing-energy-fact-file-2011.pdf
Pitt, V., 2013. Government commits to zero carbon homes by 2016. [Online]
Rocky Mountain Institute, 2013. [Online]
United Nations Foundation, 2012. Improving Energy Efficiency. [Online]
United Nations, 2013. United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. [Online]
Written by Gordon Moran for the EEC
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