The Prime Minister has made great play in recent weeks of the need to create a more secure supply of energy for the UK, as a result of the war in the Ukraine. Yet perhaps our focus should also be on reducing the amount of fossil-based energy we use in the first place, or at the very least, using decarbonised forms of fuel.
Emerging slowly from the pandemic to be met with a cost-of-living crisis has hardly brought great cheer to the public. Next winter is likely to be severely challenging for the most vulnerable in our local communities. The energy bill rebate, as it stands, is unlikely to make a significant impact and those forced to make a choice between, heating and eating, will likely look to their council for further support.
Thinking longer term, many councils have made their own declarations on achieving net zero in their areas and set off with action plans aimed at achieving this goal. Domestic heating is a major part of a council’s own footprint, as well as that of the wider area, and councils need to provide leadership in decarbonisation, not only through their direct actions on their own assets, but also through their stewardship of the wider area. With an estimated 19m houses requiring retrofit between now and 2050, and the average price tag for retrofitting coming in at £18,000, this will not be cheap.
Councils can use their local plans to take a fabric first approach and demand that new housing built in their local area is built to Passivhaus or equivalent standards. Of course, some developers may not like this and cite viability but councils must be prepared with their case and remain strong in pursuit of their own ambitions. Whilst cost will also be important, especially with council new builds, local supply chain development needs to be supported to ensure this approach is delivered in a truly sustainable way, using locally sourced materials and services.
The country also needs to develop a much greater supply of its own energy if we are going to double the size of the UK’s electricity grid by 2050, as outlined in the Sixth Carbon Budget. This report outlines that councils can play a key role in this ambition by utilising their assets and land for generation from a range of renewable sources.
Faced with securing the energy needs of the UK in the coming decades, my advice to the PM is: Think big, act local, start now.