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Energy Efficiency

Volume 687: debated on Monday 11 December 2006

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What further measures they have in mind to stimulate energy efficiency in households in the light of the recent report by the Energy Saving Trust.

My Lords, the Government published their energy review in July 2006. It showed that we are building on the Climate Change Programme through a number of ambitious new measures that will promote ongoing improvements in household energy efficiency. In particular, we are moving towards more energy-efficient new homes and are committed to maintaining a supplier obligation to target household emissions until at least 2020.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that Answer. Is he aware that domestic energy usage accounts for about a quarter of the total energy used in this country and that a third of that is wasted, making British householders among the biggest energy wasters in Europe according to a recent report from the Energy Saving Trust? Is he further aware that there is little likelihood of the objectives set out in the Energy White Paper to which he referred being achieved by 2010? In those circumstances, is there not a need for a major review of the wide and disparate measures now available from various sources to encourage domestic energy efficiency, to bring them together under a single ministry or agency and offer suitable incentives for the sorts of measures proposed by the Energy Saving Trust?

My Lords, my first cop-out Answer is that the machinery of government envisaged in the Question is a matter for the Prime Minister. The report from the Energy Saving Trust made it clear that no single policy option will solve this problem: it will require a lot of action by a lot of people. Indeed, it is a lot of people making probably a small number of changes in how they run their households that will actually solve the problem.

My Lords, I declare an interest as chairman-elect of the newly formed Lighter Evening Experiment Group. Is there not an even simpler answer than that given by the Minister? One of the best and quickest ways to save energy is not to have to turn the lights on in the afternoon. Therefore, why does the Energy Saving Trust not include a study of the effect of daylight saving? What statistics do the Government have to say that darker evenings, which are the present regime, are more efficient and less wasteful than lighter evenings would be under Single and Double British Summer Time?

My Lords, the policy which the noble Lord proposes saves not only energy but, at the end of the day, probably also lives. That is an important factor. The policy is highly controversial but if we are serious about saving energy and about climate change then we will have to take radical action. Maybe we should look at how we have to put on the lights earlier than we would if we did not make this change in the hours.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that sometimes it is not radical but simple things that count? For example, people could be advised that they are likely to use more electricity if they turn off a light in a room, come back soon and switch it on again than if they had left it on initially.

My Lords, people could do all kinds of things, and I have a list of examples. As envisaged in the noble Lord’s supplementary question, 27 per cent of national greenhouse gas emissions are a result of decisions taken by consumers in the home, and we are incredibly wasteful. Keeping gadgets on stand-by is an example. I was interested to see that a survey of 400 teenagers aged between 13 and 19, published by the Scottish Press Association on Friday, I think, found that the total energy consumption of all their gadgets exceeds the annual output of a nuclear reactor.

My Lords, the report says that 75 per cent of all energy is used in space and water heating. If that is so, are the Government considering making technologies such as solar thermal heating mandatory in all new buildings? It is a low-carbon solution for water heating that would be cost effective and cut down on fuel poverty.

My Lords, I am sure that that must have been looked at. Later next year, in July, houses will be required to have an energy audit before they are marketed, and that is bound to have an effect on the market and what people do. As I say, there is not a single policy such as turning lights off. I am told that, over a year, the clock on an electric cooker uses more power than the cooking itself. So people should turn the main source off when they are not using it. People can also save an enormous amount of money. Three low-cost energy light bulbs can make an enormous difference in saving electricity. People can save on their bills as well as helping the climate.

My Lords, waste is clearly a very important aspect of this, and there are undoubtedly ways in which a lot of it can be eliminated in new homes. However, many older houses have hot water systems that allow considerable quantities of water to go straight down the drain before the water becomes hot. Is that one of the issues being addressed in the ever-more inventive solutions of those at the Energy Saving Trust?

My Lords, I do not know about the Energy Saving Trust, but the noble Baroness is right. We can do all we can with new build—at about 200,000 new dwellings a year; though that figure is probably a bit high—but we have a stock of about 25 million dwellings. Dealing with the stock is much more important than new build. We have to do both but dealing with the stock is extremely difficult for reasons that the noble Baroness has just given. It requires innovation and will be not be a one-size-fits-all solution.

My Lords, does the Minister’s “radical” measures include the obvious one of putting up the price?

My Lords, I am not sure that that is a relevant factor. We want people to use less and to stay warm. We need to show people that they need not be worried about that. You can stay warm even with the energy-saving measures that we are taking. The price mechanism has not been a factor. I do not know whether the noble Lord has looked at his bills, but energy prices have gone through the roof in the past year.