Renew On Line (UK) 63
|Extracts from NATTA's journal
Renew, Issue 163 Sept-Oct 2006
|Welcome Archives Bulletin|
6. Energy Efficiency - the Lords talk sense
On 27 April Baroness Perry of Southwark commented on the report by the House Of Lords Science and Technology Committee on Energy Efficiency (2nd Report, HL Paper 21) and the government response to it, and to the Committees’ earlier report on the practicalities of renewable energy. She said ‘the Government’s responses to both reports have been extremely disappointing. In the words of the committee’s annual report, “the response to a large extent simply described at length existing policies, initiatives and instruments, without appearing to grasp the strategic vision underlying our Report”.’
In particular she noted that ‘our report begins with an attempt to define energy efficiency, and to understand what it can realistically achieve’, and she noted that there were important uncertainties- not least the so called rebound effect. ‘An example of this would be if you bought a more economical and efficient car; the energy within a fuel would be used more efficiently, but that does not mean that you would end up using less petrol- you may simply drive further, and end up using the same or more fuel. As Prof. Paul Ekins, of the UK Energy Research Centre, told us, “increased efficiency in the use of a resource leads over time to greater use of that resource and not less use of it”.’
She went on: ‘This may explain why, as we say in paragraph 3.7 of our report, while most developed countries have seen improved energy efficiency in recent decades: “there appears to be no example of a developed society that has succeeded in combining sustained reductions in energy consumption with economic growth”’. She added ‘The Government have no clear definition or measure of efficiency, and it is hard to avoid the conclusion that if they did- for instance, if they measured energy efficiency in terms of the absolute reduction in the consumption of delivered energy- they would be setting themselves up to fail. Despite a significant fall in industrial energy use, overall UK consumption of delivered energy continues to rise slowly but steadily.’
She noted, that ‘in the memorable words of one government official, quoted in paragraph 2.28, energy efficiency savings are, “real relative savings... genuine reductions on what would otherwise have happened”. That sounds like a world of make-believe, of models and projections- or guesswork. Does that matter? A case in point is our statement in paragraph 2.49 that the UK had already met its Kyoto obligations before the end of the 1990s, “largely for structural reasons and because of changes in the fuel mix”.’
In their response, the Government said that this was “not the case”, and that such changes had played only a small part in a reduction, “against a Business as Usual baseline.... estimated at about 60 MtC”. But Baroness Perry commented ‘this is of course a reduction against an estimated “baseline”- in other words, something totally hypothetical’.
She went on ‘On another Defra webpage a statistical release states: “The fall in emissions in the first half of the 1990s is associated mainly with greater use of gas in electricity generation and increased use of nuclear-generated electricity. Both displaced coal use”. That is exactly the committee’s point. At every stage you have to peel back the layers of intellectual confusion- sometimes, I fear, even spin- before you get to hard facts.’
She concluded ‘The committee’s clear message is that we need simplicity and strong leadership: clear definitions, clear measures, and institutions and policies shaped accordingly’ with at present ‘the most glaring source of confusion’ being ‘the division of responsibility for energy policy between two departments, the DTI and Defra. Why does one department sponsor the electricity-generating industry while the other is responsible for attempts to reduce electricity consumption? And why, when the DTI is responsible for power generation, does combined heat and power fall to Defra? The confusion of responsibilities is repeated at every stage lower down the scale in the proliferation of agencies, networks and incentives in the field. We have grave concerns about that.’
For 21 years builders have been legally bound to construct homes that conserve energy and the building regulations tell them how to do it. However, according to George Monbiot writing in The Guardian (May 30th), no builders have been prosecuted in that period for non-compliance. He noted that a study by the Building Research Establishment, looking at just one factor (the rate at which cold air leaks in) found that 43% of the new houses it checked should have been failed by the inspectors, whereas all of them had been passed. In some homes the requisite amount of insulation had been left in the lofts, but it was still tied up in bales. He added that survey of building control officers by the Energy Efficiency Partnership for Homes found that ‘they treat the energy rules as a joke’- several said they saw energy efficiency as a ‘trivial’ matter. Monbiot says that ‘Part of the problem is that since their profession was deregulated, many of them are involved in a standing conflict of interest. In the past, building control officers were employed by the council. Today builders hire “approved inspectors” to certify their houses. If the inspectors are too tough, they won’t be hired again.’
Monbiots solution is to insist that we move to superinsulated zero carbon houses: ‘By 2010, no house in this country shall be built with a heating or cooling system’. He mentions the German Passivhaus standards an example and says that ‘a study of more than 100 passive homes showed they had a mean indoor temperature of 21.4 degrees during the bitter German winter. That’s 2.4 degrees warmer than the average British home.’
...and the Rebound Effect
However it may not always be as easy as you think. When you save energy you also save money and you are likely to respend it on other energy using products and services, so overall energy and emissions savings may be reduced. Some analysts have even suggested they might be totally wiped out.
But, a report from the Cambridge Centre for Climate Change Mitigation Research suggests that the impact of this so-called ‘rebound effect’ will amount to no more than 21% of the energy savings and that there could be macroeconomic benefits.
The rebound effect is the subject of the latest review by the UKERC’s Technology & Policy Analysis group- out later this year.
* Ken Livingstone has issued proposed amendments to upgrade the London Energy plan- doubling the carbon emission reductions that developments must achieve through onsite renewables from 10% to 20%. That will certainly move things along. Separately, there is even talk of the Palace of Westminster being partly powered by tidal turbines in the Thames! Details at: www.london.gov.uk/londonissues/planninganddevelopment.jsp
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