In August I wrote here about the government’s pre-announced ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2040, and how it could turn out to be a hostage to fortune if the necessary technology fails to be developed. Today, in its Clean Growth Strategy, the government announces another dubious target: insulating a million of the leakiest homes with the aid of £3.6 billion raised through the Energy Company Obligation – which is a levy on all energy customers’ bills.
The proposal seems to work on the assumption that it is possible to insulate an old property, bringing it close to the insulation standards of a new home, at an average cost of £3,600 per home. That is hopeful, to say the least. It is possible to improve the energy performance of properties with cavity walls for something like that sum. Trouble is, nine million homes in Britain do not have cavity wall insulation – they have solid walls. It is possible to insulate them to modern standards, but for £3,600 each? You’ll be lucky. There are two ways of fitting such insulation: on the inside or on the outside of a house. To fit it internally requires every window, every door to be changed and the entire house redecorated. To fit it externally requires the whole house to be encased in cladding. As has been shown tragically once this year at Grenfell Tower, this is not something which ought to be done on the cheap. As well as increasing fire risk, badly-installed external cladding can create damp problems inside buildings by trapping moisture which had previously managed to escape through the walls.
According to the government’s own energy-efficiency quango, the Energy Savings Trust, internal insulation costs between £3,500 and £14,500 per property and external cladding between £8,000 and £22,000. So how on Earth does the government think it can be done for an average of £3,600 per home?
Even if you do spend these sums insulating a house with solid walls, it still brings you nowhere near getting it to do its bit for the target laid down in the 2008 Climate Change Act – to reduce carbon emissions by 80 per cent -- compared with 1990 levels -- by 2050. In order to do that, it is necessary to insulate floors, fit triple-glazing, solar panels, heat pumps and much more besides. Again, this is all possible – but at a cost.
In a demonstration project in Oxford completed in 2011, a team from Oxford Brookes University succeeded in reducing the carbon footprint of a two-up, two-down by 80 per cent. The trouble is that the project cost £90,000 – more than the house would have been worth in many parts of the country. No doubt economies of scale could bring that down to some extent, but as things stand the 2050 legally-binding carbon-reduction target remains an unlikely pipe-dream. Maybe technology will emerge to make it possible. But then again, maybe it won’t. What will the government do then? Jail itself, for failing to reach its legal target? One thing is for sure: few, if any, of those MPs who meekly voted to impose the 2050 Climate Change target on the country without having any idea as to how it would be achieved will still be around to face the consequences.