Call for focus on the energy performance of existing homes

Fundamental market failure prevents people improving the energy efficiency of existing homes, according to the UK Green Building Council (UKGBC). The council - representing the construction sector, NGOs and government agencies - issued a report in October on how to improve the energy performance of existing properties.1

The report - part-funded by the government - is aimed at informing the government’s forthcoming low-carbon homes strategy, announced in June as part of the draft renewable energy strategy (ENDS Report 402, pp 38-39 ).

The government has a target for all new homes to be zero-carbon by 2016. However, at least 80% of the homes that will be standing in 2050 have already been built.

There are government initiatives to promote energy efficiency such as the Carbon Emission Reduction Target (CERT), which requires energy suppliers to improve the energy efficiency of customers’ homes. But these have not created a mainstream market demand, the UKGBC says, despite the cost-effectiveness of measures such as loft insulation.

The government also has no strategy for funding more expensive measures such as high-efficiency boilers. The market for these is niche and unlikely to change without policy intervention, the UKGBC says. This could include fiscal incentives such as council tax rebates.

The report recommends improving the energy performance certificate programme, which rates the energy performance of a home from A-G, to encourage action by householders. Mandatory minimum grades could be phased in over time.

Work could be funded by long-term loans linked to the property rather than the individual. The cost would be covered by a third party and repaid by a charge on the property, perhaps through council tax. "One stop shops" could offer advice on energy efficiency, building on the existing network of Energy Savings Trust advice centres. The service could include surveys and help with finance.

The report is an embarrassment for the government, given it appeared only weeks after it announced a major expansion of CERT (ENDS Report 404, pp 13-14 ).