Should we be dialling back our energy efficiency plans?

The UK Government recently stuck some sticking plaster on its energy efficiency strategy by extending the Energy Company Obligation (ECO) to September 2018.  But we are still waiting for the approach through to 2020 and beyond. This is becoming urgent as the Government is behind with its new Carbon Plan (it was due before the end of 2016).  This is supposed to take UK emissions through to 2032 (the end of the Fifth Carbon Budget).

But is energy efficiency all that it is claimed?  Perhaps the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) should be dialling back the potential returns and considering a greater emphasis on low carbon heat?

Below is a graphic from the Government’s 2016 National Energy Efficiency Dataframeworks (NEED) publication. The blue bubbles show the observed savings from the measures described.  The bIack boxes contain data based on the Green Deal Impact Assessment (data from 2010) and the Boiler Scrappage Scheme (2010) for comparison. The numbers are not fully consistent but give a good flavour of how expected energy efficiency savings are not materialising on the ground.  As the savings are a lot smaller than expected, the cost of saving energy and Carbon will be commensurately larger.


The estimates from 2010 are physics based estimates for a three-bed semi-detached house.  The NEED 2016 data is observed data from actual households that installed one of the measures.  It appears that a combination of factors is depressing the results of the energy efficiency policies. Quirky building fabric may be preventing fully effective insulation being installed; optimism about new technologies (see below) probably led to overambitious assumptions and unexpected consumer behaviour is leading to greater energy use e.g. running the central heating in summer.

There is some new evidence on condensing boilers that helps to explain the disappointing savings experienced by households.  Sustainable Homes has recently produced the “National Energy Study 2”.  This study shows that combination boilers use 13% more energy than a system boiler (i.e.with a cylinder), which was not foreseen earlier.  Over two thirds of the Sustainable Homes sample had the combination or “Combi” boiler. It seems that this trend is undermining savings from condensing boilers.

If energy efficiency can’t cheaply fill the carbon gap, then more expensive measures, including low carbon heat are going to be needed.  How to finance those will the subject of forthcoming posting on this blog.

Pete Roscoe, Climate Change Economics Ltd, 22 Feb 2017


BEIS 2016, “NEED Report”:

Sustainable Homes 2016, “National Energy Study 2”:

DECC 2011, “Green Deal Impact Assessment”:

House of Commons Library, 2010, “Boiler Scrappage Scheme”:


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