Energy inefficiency

I got an unsolicited package through the post: four “low-energy” light bulbs.  They’re from British Gas (a domestic energy supplier), and no doubt part of an effort to play “green”.  I guess they can join the spare bulbs I already have sitting in a drawer.

As feelgreen efforts go, it seems mostly harmless: a low-cost effort that could have a very marginal positive outcome.  But as ever, there’s a downside: these are old-fashioned, ugly bulbs, and could reinforce prejudices about “energy-saving” bulbs being horrible in people like my mother.

More problematic is the government’s latest: free or subsidised improvements to the insulation of some peoples homes.  Again, on a narrow view there should be a positive outcome, but this time it’s not cheap&easy: the energy companies could more usefully direct their resources to clean energy.  Rising energy costs are the right stimulus to home insulation.  And, unlike the light bulbs, free home insulation is limited to homeowners, and so completely excludes the poor.

Having said that, there is at least an argument that the government is doing the right thing.  Namely, political expedience.  The fact that energy companies will be paying helps defuse the pressure for a so-called windfall tax: something that would damage their ability to invest in the future, not so much in direct costs, but in scaring investors away.  It could even do collateral damage in other industries.

Alas, none of this does anything for clean energy.  The Alice-in-Wonderland windfall handed to energy generators[1] in free CO2 allowances is genuine and very wrong.  If we accept the carbon market, it should be operated by auction to the highest bidders.  If relief to polluters is considered necessary, give them some measure of corporation tax relief tied to the energy they produce, so clean energy gets the benefits.

[1] who are not the same as domestic providers – something the commentators seem to overlook.

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Posted on September 12, 2008, in energy, environment, politics, rants, uk. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. If it’s anything like the current home insulation and energy efficiency schemes, one of the major drawbacks of these programmes is that householders have to use one of a small number of pre-selected contractors. This greatly limits choice. For example, none of the contractors under the current scheme provides more environmentally friendly insulation materials such as Warmcell or Thermafleece (recycled post-consumer newsprint and sheep”s wool respectively) even if the householder is willing to pay for the balance of the costs over traditional mineral wool. Furthermore, there is always the suspicion in my mind that these contractors pad out the bills to make more profit out of the subsidy element. Then there are issues over delays and shoddy workmanship which were especially notable in the government’s Warm Front programme that provided subsidised modern heating systems to certain poorer groups.

    I have no issue with the principle of subsidised insulation (and microgeneration) as means of cutting fossil fuel energy consumption, but subject to a set of appropriate cost and efficiency standards, the householder should be able to select a contractor and system of their choice (paying more themselves if necessary for a better than bog standard product), not be tied in to buying from a small bunch of “grantrepreneurs”.

    I ended up installing Warmcell myself and paying in full for everything because of this lack of customer choice.

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