Paying less to heat and power our homes – a good idea or not?

Less than a month ago, the Sustainability Forum met at the Council House to talk about “Paying less to heat and power our homes — the challenge for Birmingham now and in the future”.

The underlying assumption behind the whole evening was that “saving energy” is paying less to heat our homes and is a Good Idea, that energy efficiency leads to reductions in demand. But is this so?

Oxford economist Dieter Helm in his book The Carbon Crunch suggests not. For the individual, there’s no doubt that lower bills mean . . . well, for most consumers that is likely to translate into higher energy consumption. If a commodity is cheap or we get more bang for our buck, we use more of it, and there’s plenty of opportunity to do that with digital technologies — as Helm say, many now use electricity to read a book.

Moreover, if we all pay less for energy, there is little incentive to invest in expensive alternatives to cheap fossil fuels, the cheapest, most plentiful and, alas, the dirtiest being coal.

Besides which, we need ask why it is that there’s been so little take-up of the Government’s much vaunted Green Deal. Might it be because it’s actually a lousy deal? A bureaucratic faff to get strangers to do messy building work on your home, quite possibly at awkward times, and that might or might not be well done, plus at a cost to you that’s way over today’s lending rates? Might it be too that it’s way over lending rates because lenders also realise it’s a crud deal?

I paraphrase Helm’s argument, but that’s it in essence.

The Sustainability Forum presentations, which can be found here, were from Chris Hall from Carillion’s retrofit programme, Clive Skidmore from the Birmingham Municipal Housing Trust, David Mason of Sweden’s biggest construction company Skanska, and from two architects, Rob Annable from Axis Design and John Christophers who’s the guy behind the Zero Carbon House in Balsall Heath — he designed it and now lives there.

One response to “Paying less to heat and power our homes – a good idea or not?”

  1. H.G.Thomas says:

    The short article I have just read seems deliberately provocative. We might ask the question ” would it be better to pay less (or more) for everything? Energy is just a tool we use to produce virtually everything from housing, food to condoms. The problem is not the market we use to distribute energy but the animal we are. By that I mean that we are evolved to seek more of what we want and the more abundant the satiant of our needs, the more we stockpile it. Good luck on finding a solution….GT

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