Energy efficiency needed ‘to protect UK countryside’

A new report published by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) shows that a huge investment in energy efficiency is needed if the country is to meet its 2050 carbon reduction targets and reduce avoidable large infrastructure projects

A new report published by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) shows that a huge investment in energy efficiency is needed if the country is to meet its 2050 carbon reduction targets and reduce avoidable large infrastructure projects, such as nuclear power stations, wind turbines and solar farms, in rural areas.

The Warm and Green report is based on research carried out by Anglia Ruskin University and Cambridge Architectural Research and asserts that energy efficiency has been grossly underplayed in discussions and policy decisions around the UK’s future energy supply.

The report illustrates what a major programme of home energy improvements could mean alongside the potential impact of infrastructure on the countryside. It also highlights the shortage of funding for improvements in rural areas. 

Warm and Green highlights that, in the context of likely future scenarios, an ambitious retrofitting programme could cut carbon emissions from homes by 44 per cent.  Yet the research shows that even if such upgrades are carried out, the country would still be considerably short of meeting energy demand while cutting carbon emissions by 80 per cent by 2050.

The report includes case studies from across England which explore motivations for and barriers to making energy improvements in rural homes and community buildings. It finds that cost, the difficulty of finding skilled installers and payback time are barriers that are too high for many people to overcome.

To ensure progress on reducing our energy demand, the report calls for a bold national programme to reduce energy and carbon emissions from homes and community buildings; the implementation of stronger zero carbon standards for new homes; and for rural communities to receive a fairer share of funding for energy efficiency. 

Around 18 per cent of the population live in rural areas, but those areas receive less than 1 per cent of funding for energy efficiency improvements.  While all English communities have faced increasing energy costs since 2003, rural communities contend with comparatively lower home energy efficiency and higher energy costs.

Nick Clack, Senior Energy Campaigner at the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), said: “Existing national programmes such as the Energy Company Obligation and the Green Deal have failed to sufficiently reduce energy and carbon emissions. We must instead focus on community-led retrofit initiatives to target fuel-poor households, and offer more persuasive and understandable financial incentives for all households.

“Such approaches would not only reduce carbon emissions, but reduce people’s energy bills, create jobs and help protect our landscapes.

“Much of the focus of the current debate is on supply: on whether to frack or where to put wind turbines. If we are to close the big energy gap, we need to make huge progress on reducing our need for energy from today.”

Dr Chris Foulds, of Anglia Ruskin University’s Global Sustainability Institute, said: “The UK’s housing stock plays a key role in lowering carbon dioxide emissions and therefore mitigating climate change.  However, if the Government is to meet its legal obligations on emissions, while also allowing growth in areas such as aviation, then the whole housing stock will need to be almost 100 per cent zero carbon by 2050. 

“Our report emphasises how difficult this will be, as retrofitting homes at 65 times the current annual rate would still be nowhere near enough,” Dr Foulds concludes.

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