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Quarter of UK homes to be offered a green makeover
9 Feb 2009

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More than one in four homes in the UK will be offered a complete eco-makeover under ambitious plans expected to be announced this week to slash fuel bills and cut global warming pollution.

The campaign is thought to involve giving 7m houses and flats a complete refit to improve insulation, and will be compared to the 10-year programme that converted British homes to gas central heating in the 1960s and 1970s. Householders could also be encouraged to install small-scale renewable and low-carbon heating systems such as solar panels and wood-burning boilers.

In total, it is thought the Department of Energy and Climate Change will commit to cutting a third of greenhouse gas emissions from households by 2020.

The announcement by the energy and climate secretary, Ed Miliband, and the communities and local government secretary, Hazel Blears, which is expected on Thursday, will be widely welcomed by environmental groups and fuel poverty campaigners who have been lobbying hard for more action to tackle emissions from homes. The proposals are likely to require skills training and create thousands of jobs.

Ed Matthew, head of UK climate for Friends of the Earth, said: "Twenty-seven percent of emissions in this country come from people's homes and if they don't cut emissions from homes radically we have got no hope of achieving our climate change targets."

However, campaigners will be worried about how much money the government is prepared to commit. Last year, the prime minister, Gordon Brown, announced nearly £1bn from power companies for energy-saving initiatives. By contrast, various reports have estimated the cost of insulation and small-scale clean energy alone to be £2bn-£12.9bn a year to reach the government's target of an 80% cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

Matthew said the targets would only be met if each home treated was insulated well enough to cut those emissions by two-thirds, the financial incentives were high enough, and people on low incomes had the work paid for to tackle fuel poverty. It is estimated that more than 5m households are in fuel poverty, meaning they spend more than 10% of their income on heat and power.

"My concern is they will not be investing enough money to take these homes to a high enough energy efficiency standard to insulate them from rising fuel prices," he added.

A report by Oxford University's Environmental Change Institute in 2007 found that carbon dioxide emissions had risen 5% since Labour came into power in 1997, and only four out of every 1,000 homes had any "low-and-zero carbon technologies". The report also warned that with rising population and falling household numbers, emissions from the sector would rise by 23% by the middle of the century "if nothing else changed".

As well as the target of seven million homes, the heat and energy saving strategy is understood to push for a dramatic increase in the level of insulation for each house or flat, and to encourage more small-scale zero-or-low carbon heat.

The schemes will be voluntary, but Miliband is expected to announce financial incentives.

Similar schemes overseas included grants or cheap loans, transferable to a new homeowner if the property is sold. Also, the Sustainable Energy Academy estimates that if homeowners spend £15,000-20,000 they would save that amount in lower bills in 10-15 years, even less if fuel prices rise. Another possibly option is for whole districts to be offered community clean energy schemes, or mass fitting of efficiency improvements.

The Conservatives have proposed grants of up to £6,500 per household, which would be repaid over up to 25 years from expected savings of £160 on gas and electricity bills.

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Source: Guardian