This week marks Energy Saving Week and the Department of Energy and Climate Change is launching itself right into the swing of things.
It’s only Tuesday and so far Lord Bourne has visited the Energy Savings Advice Service, Andrea Leadsom has dropped in on Centrica (of all people) to see energy trading in action and secretary of state Amber Rudd stopped past a Citizens Advice Bureau in Hammersmith yesterday. Let’s hope her visit wasn’t on the off chance they’d be able to provide some hints on energy policy moving forward.
The ministerial visits are just a handful of more than 600 events the department has lined up this week to publicise just how much the general public can save on their energy bills. It’s imploring people up and down the country to drop in on local events, where advisers will be at hand to offer impartial advice.
But a quick glance at DECC’s messaging on social media, and the news releases relating to the event, demonstrate just how single-minded the department is being on the issue.
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DECC’s news release earlier this month revealed that general public could save up to £2.2 billion just by switching their energy supplier. A poll of adults by the government revealed that 94% of people did not realise they could save in excess of £200 by switching, while two-thirds of those surveyed admitted that they had no idea how much they could save.
That’s all well and good, and the government should absolutely be ensuring switching is as easy to do as possible, but encouraging people to just switch provider under the guise of “Energy Saving Week” is misleading.
Saving energy should be a wide-reaching public awareness campaign encompassing all areas of reducing demand, be it through educating the general population on precisely how energy bills are calculated, how available technologies can reduce or shift demand to off-peak times and what incentives are available which make adopting those technologies all the more feasible.
Instead, the department is having to balance running Energy Savings Week while simultaneously failing to properly incentivise the process of actually saving energy.
The government’s big policy reset this summer has left the industry in a state of flux. Zero Carbon Homes received the chop in what former energy secretary Ed Davey has labelled the “worst thing the Tories have done”, the Green Deal has been axed without anything resembling a replacement and proposed feed-in tariff rates to come into effect in January look set to reduce the residential PV market by as much as 90%.
Since it began culling green policies the government’s line has often been that replacements are in the offing. Yet more than five months into the Conservative’s five-year term and the industry is still waiting. Leadsom’s comments before the ECC select committee last week that the department is working “flat out” to put together replacement policies will do little to assuage the sentiment and ill-feeling that continues to fester.
Confidence is, however, high at Whitehall Place. Leadsom said she was confident that the UK would meet its smart meter rollout target by 2020 despite being woefully short of the required progress with less than five years to go. And despite all but ruling out a replacement for Zero Carbon Homes, Leadsom said policies designed to give consumers more power over matters of energy efficiency would be forthcoming after the autumn spending review next month.
Rumours of a 4p FiT and potential incentives for storage are swirling – measures which would fall in line with the recent flurry of reports highlighting the potential for a decentralised energy system to save on bills – yet without concrete announcements from DECC, the UK’s move towards a more efficient energy system will remain stymied.
Which is why DECC’s failure to tie in proper policy support with this week’s energy savings bonanza seems like an opportunity missed. What better way to empower the general public with regards energy efficiency – in Leadsom’s own words – than to demonstrate how the government can help them actually reduce their consumption, and in turn bills, through incentives advertised at the some-600 events it has organised for this week.
Instead, progress will continue to trickle through, when what the UK really needs is a steady stream.