Robin Webster looks at the latest energy statistics and explores whether the government can achieve the ambitious targets it has set. The low uptake of its flagship energy efficiency policy, the Green Deal, has brought on calls for the government to set “ambitious minimum standards”. The figures on fuel poverty are perhaps the least encouraging of the lot, with the 2010 target already missed and the 2016 target likely to be missed as well.
Can the government really reduce greenhouse gas emissions by four fifths, while maintaining energy security and keeping prices down? The government’s latest energy statistics, out last week, give some grounds for optimism about whether it can be done – but the news on energy efficiency – and fuel poverty – doesn’t look good. The UK’s 2008 Climate Change Act requires an 80 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, compared to 1990 levels, by 2050. To mark the way, the government has set itself a series of five year carbon budgets which currently run up to 2027. So where do the government’s statistics suggest it’s going – and what’s the prognosis for the future?
Greenhouse gas emissions
First, greenhouse gas emissions as a whole. According to the government’s figures, emissions across the economy fell by 30 per cent between 1990 and 2011:
As a result, the country hit its first five year carbon budget as well as its internationally agreed targets to reduce emissions under the Kyoto Protocol. This result was largely the result of falling emissions in the energy sector – which account for 35 per cent of total emissions, as this graph shows:
The Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) primarily attributes the fall to a switch from coal toward lower-emissions gas – most of which came from domestic reserves under the North Sea. But with North Sea gas production in decline, what’s going to happen in the longer term? The government is optimistic that emissions will continue to fall in line with the targets under the climate change act until the early 2020s. The Committee on Climate Change (CCC), which advises the government on how to meet its emissions targets, disagrees. It says emissions will start going off-track between 2017 and 2022 because the government isn’t doing enough to encourage low carbon power and more efficient energy use.
The government’s projections for future greenhouse gas emissions are based on the assumption that its energy efficiency policies will successfully reduce the amount of energy the country uses – driving emissions down. DECC’s new figures show some progress. In the domestic sector, for example, the number of homes with cavity wall insulation increased by a third between 2008 and 2013. Over the same period the number of homes with loft insulation increased by just under 60 per cent. But the number of homes installing cavity wall insulation crashed in the last year as the government’s old support schemes came to an end – falling to just over 1,000 in April 2013, compared to nearly 40,000 a year before:
The government hopes its flagship energy efficiency policy, the Green Deal, will encourage householders to install more insulation in their homes. But the measure has attracted considerable criticism, not least due to low levels of takeup in its early stages. The CCC is worried that failure to deliver on the Green Deal will help derail the government’s climate ambitions – and has called on the government to set “ambitious minimum standards” for energy efficiency in residential and non-residential buildings, to help make sure it delivers.
The figures on fuel poverty are perhaps the least encouraging of the lot. The government has aimed to eliminate fuel poverty amongst the country’s most vulnerable households – those containing children, old people or people with disabilities for example – by 2010. It also aimed “as far as reasonably practicable” to eliminate fuel poverty entirely by 2016. The government previously considered households fuel poor if they needed to spend more than 10 per cent of their income on their energy supply. Using this measure, the government has already missed its 2010 target, and looks likely to miss the 2016 target as well. This graph illustrates the challenge:
But it’s perhaps not surprising that the government has struggled with this measure, given the changes in the price over fuel over the last decade or so, as this graph indicates:
Finally, renewable energy. As we’ve already noted, the proportion of energy sourced from renewables is rising:
Over the last last eight years, renewable energy’s share of total energy supply has risen from just over one per cent to 4.1 per cent – a three per cent rise. But the future still like quite a challenge. Under the EU Renewables Directive, the UK is required to source 15 per cent of its energy from renewables by 2020 – another eleven per cent rise. This is what the rise so far looks like:
As ever, the majority of the energy debate tends to focus on the supply mix. But the possibility of failure in energy efficiency may well be the more worrying prospect, and pose the greatest threat to the country’s ability to meet its carbon targets.
This article was originally published on the Carbon Brief blog.
Note: This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of the British Politics and Policy blog, nor of the London School of Economics. Please read our comments policy before posting.
Robin Webster covers energy policy and analysis for Carbon Brief. She holds an MSc in Conservation from University College London (UCL) and previously studied biology at Bristol University. She worked for Friends of the Earth for six and half years, including as a Senior Campaigner on Climate and Energy, and has worked as a freelance environmental researcher.