Energy in the home
A household is said to be in fuel poverty if it needs to spend more than 10% of its income on fuel to maintain a satisfactory heating regime (usually 21 degrees for the main living area, and 18 degrees for other occupied rooms). There are three key drivers of fuel poverty in the UK:
1. The energy efficiency status of the property
2. The cost of energy
3. Household income
The last government pledged that they would end fuel poverty in England among households which include the elderly, the disabled or children this year - and entirely by 2016. A pledge not being made by the ConDem coalition.
Energy bills have risen 125% in the past six years and Government has indicated that they may increase by 50% in order to cover the investment in energy infrastructure needed. The Fuel Poverty Advisory Group has described the plans as "regressive" and will "disproportionately" impact those people on low incomes and estimated that the number of households in fuel poverty could rapidly reach 9 million.
Households in fuel poverty already under-heat their homes to cut costs and Age Concern has warned that this is a "Heat of Eat" scenario. The buildings they live in also tend to be the poorest in terms of insulation. Unaffordable energy bills already cause misery for millions and without urgent action the situation is going to get rapidly worse.
- Creates jobs
- Cuts CO2
- Saves Money - Every £1 invested in insulation reduces the cost and use of energy to the equivalent of £7
- Improves the lives of the poor and the local neighbourhood
What Can Be Done To Make Homes Energy Efficient and Reduce Fuel Poverty?
According to the Department of Energy and Climate Change, the domestic sector accounts for 28% of total British energy demand. It is responsible for approximately 30% of Britain's total CO2 emissions, 53% are from domestic space heating, with 20% created by heating water. The remainder comprises of appliances (16%), lighting (6%) and cooking (5%). Refurbishing domestic buildings offers an effective way of decreasing CO2 emissions and dramatically reducing overall energy demand.
The average home's heating and lighting usage could be reduced by 80%, with the remaining heat and electrical demand being met using renewables. The nation's building stock could be transformed from among the worst in Europe to a position of leading the low carbon economy.
In the domestic sector, there are many opportunities for basic cost-effective improvements in thermal performance. In 2005, there were over 9 million uninsulated cavity walls and 6.3 million lofts in Britain with little or no insulation.
A national refurbishment scheme would make sure that everybody could benefit from cost and CO2 saving opportunities. Retrofitting existing homes could save 15 times more CO2 by 2050 than their demolition and replacement.
Whilst retrofitting and making existing buildings energy efficient, there is a CO2 impact implicit in the use of new materials. The retrofit of 25 million homes in the UK would have a significant impact (at the very moment in time, when dramatic cuts in CO2 are needed).
The total embodied carbon of construction materials for domestic and non-domestic buildings added up to approximately 70 million tonnes of CO2 (2003 figure), (13% of the total UK reported CO2).
One key ways of reducing the CO2 impact of this work will be by selecting building materials that have low embodied energy and embodied CO2.
- Natural materials such as wood and straw absorb CO2 from the atmosphere. This stored CO2 could be locked away in building materials resulting in a carbon saving i.e. a "net negative".
- The materials used for this carbon sequestration include grown and recycled materials (recycled paper, wool, hemp, straw, etc).
Every aspect of the refurbishment should use natural materials where possible to lock away CO2.
At a planning and policy level, a code for sustainable building design should encourage timber frame construction to promote CO2 sequestration, low embodied energy and the use of natural materials. Like all legislation it should be matched with training and enforcement to ensure compliance. In the absence of national guidance, strict local (supplementary) planning guidance is urgently needed.
The better the design and construction of the building, the less fuel is needed to provide warmth and electricity. The less fuel you use the more in control of your comfort you are. Energy can then be understood as an infrastructure issue - not simply a commodity issue.
Local renewable energy generation a vital way of reducing your fossil fuel use and lowering fuel bills, the faster the central electricity distribution system will be localised. The closer energy generation is to the point of use the faster the electricity grid wastage can be reduced (approximately a 1/3rd of UK energy is lost directly from large power stations and via electricity pylon transmission).
"This design process should be considered a celebration of life and vital part of the evolution of a 21st century vernacular, expressing optimism of a future that works without waste and pollution."
"Micro-generation in the form of solar hot water and electricity generation, along with ground source heat pumps, micro-wind turbines and biomass combined heat and power must be integrated alongside the use of more established ‘traditional' materials. Indeed it is essential to use local materials such as lime-hemp, aerated clay block, recycled concrete, recycled paper, wool, cork in imaginative ways to increase the thermal mass of existing buildings."
"The mantra that change is out of character with the building or landscape is part of the a suicide pact being clung to by those who continue to deny climate change or who will not accept that the end of oil, and the major waste of fossil fuels must end within less than a decade. Planning must embrace renewable energy technologies."
"If an architect conforms to the conservation department's whims to hide solar panels on buildings that reduce their efficiency, then the energy generation problems are automatically sent offsite to centralised coal, gas or uranium fuel power stations."
"Worse, it is the current waste of fossil fuels on which international aggression for oil and gas reserves are centred."
Bill Dunster, Zed Factory.
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