Human society, let alone life in general, can’t run without energy. In the UK we’ve grown accustomed to the ease of flicking the switch or filling up the tank and having instant access to relatively cheap energy. The rapid rise in wholesale prices, fuelled further by the war in Ukraine, has been a shock to the system with repercussions for everyone – albeit in hugely varying degrees of severity. Fossil fuel companies are enjoying record profits while the number of fuel poor households is rising. In the middle of all this the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have issued another alarming report, warning that time really is running out. The climate crisis has reached a crunch point and the cost of not addressing it fast is also rising, both for people and nature (if you believe that the two are separate).
Are there any possible positive outcomes to be found here? Let’s look at five ways in which high energy prices could stimulate climate action and improve lives:
Reducing energy demand through building upgrades pays off – the cheapest energy is “negawatts” or energy that isn’t used. UK has some of the least energy efficient housing stock in Europe and national attempts to improve it have been stalling. Around a third of York’s carbon emissions comes from heating and powering our homes because the vast majority are not well insulated. The Italian government offers 110% grants towards home retrofit projects because it’s an investment in national infrastructure and they recognise retrofitting is a difficult process to do right. The benefits are greatly reduced carbon emissions and happier people living in more affordable and better homes. For now in England, only lower income households (who often live in the least efficient houses) can apply for some insulation grants. If your household income is up to £30,000, in York it’s worth checking out the council’s Home Upgrade Grants offer which has also recently been extended to solar panels and heat pumps. The options for the rest are investing ourselves if we can – see York Open Eco Homes for inspirational case studies – and/or lobbying for more government support, such as calling for a Great Homes Upgrade with the New Economics Foundation.
Low carbon technologies become more appealing – payback time is an important consideration in most people’s decisions so higher energy prices make things like solar panels and heat pumps more viable. For the cost of a modest bathroom revamp (payback somehow doesn’t get discussed with those…) one can easily get a solar PV array on a suitable roof, which would help reduce energy bills. You could possibly even get an electric battery but their cost effectiveness is more debatable. A hot water tank or heat battery is likely to be a better way to store surplus renewable energy. Having largely ignored the obviously superior if difficult issue of energy demand reduction, the UK government is thinking big on heat pumps. Due to their high efficiency when installed well, they can be a good investment even without insulating a house really well first and Clean Heat Grants launching this spring should help make it even better. If you are considering getting one, this Heat Geek’s video could help you choose the right installer:
As citizens we need to use the power we do have to help make it all happen. The Jump’s research shows that we “have direct influence over 25- 27 per cent of the emissions savings needed by 2030 to avoid ecological meltdown“. Let’s make it count!
If you’re in York and need support on energy issues, our York Energy Advice project with York Community Energy can help those struggling with energy bills who are either on a low income, aged 65+ or experiencing a long term health issue. Those able to pay for home improvements can seek advice from York Community Energy.
This post was written by St Nicks Sustainability Officer and Project Co-ordinator of York Energy Advice Ivana Jakubkova, who also has an unpaid position as Treasurer of York Community Energy.