With the ambitious goal of kickstarting "a revolution in UK energy efficiency," England's Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has just launched a new program called the Government's Energy Efficiency Strategy. The goal is to cut the equivalent of 22 power stations worth of energy consumption throughout the United Kingdom by 2020. Though the UK has already made some significant progress in energy efficiency, the new strategy underscores just how much more opportunity there is to save energy in a nation that boasts an impressive stock of centuries-old buildings.
The challenges of upgrading castles, cottages and ancient estates is small potatoes, though, compared to some broader structural challenges the UK faces, and the DECC is not shy about laying those out.
The DECC's new strategy makes the same point by quoting our own U.S. Secretary of Energy, Stephen Chu, who is famous for saying that “energy efficiency is not just low‑hanging fruit; it is fruit that is lying on the ground.”
Or, as DECC somewhat more drily puts it:
"Too often, governments have neglected the role that energy demand reduction can play in managing our energy system. Yet measures that reduce demand can contribute in a more cost-effective way to meeting our energy and climate goals than supply-side measures."
In the context of Europe's continuing economic malaise, the new strategy also has benefits beyond cutting greenhouse gas emissions. According to DECC Minister Greg Barker:
“Using energy more wisely is absolutely vital in a world of increased pressure on resources and rising prices. Not only can energy efficiency help save money on bills and cut emissions, it can support green jobs, innovation and enterprise."
That's a pretty fair assessment of the potential for energy savings, but the Energy Efficiency Strategy describes four significant, interrelated obstacles to overcome.
First, it looks like we in the U.S. can pat ourselves on the back, because DECC notes that the UK market for energy efficiency products "remains underdeveloped, especially in comparison with the United States." Part of the reason that the U.S. is running ahead is probably due to the long-running EnergyStar program, which links manufacturers and consumers in a reinforcing supply-demand loop.
Second, according to DECC, the UK market is characterized by "a lack of access to trusted and appropriate information." For the business sector, this means that companies that are interested in energy efficiency upgrades don't have a reliable model to guide their investment.
In that regard, aside from EnergyStar, the U.S. market has the advantage of the Better Buildings initiative, which the Obama administration launched in order to identify industry leaders that can help establish best practices models.
The third and fourth obstacles have to do with misplaced incentives and "hassle costs" of undertaking energy efficiency upgrades. The two are closely entwined, since upgrade work involves disruptions or "hassles" in an existing business, which makes it all the more important to identify and quantify bottom-line benefits.
In any case, although it looks like the U.S. has the jump on the UK in terms of developing the market for energy efficiency, we better not get too complacent. DECC is already casting its eye beyond Mother England:
"Bringing as many homes as possible up to the level of the best is not only a worthwhile investment; it also presents a huge business opportunity, including a chance for British companies to develop expertise which can be exported to overseas markets."
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Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes. She is currently Deputy Director of Public Information for the County of Union, New Jersey. Views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect agency policy.