Working towards an energy-literate UK

Author: Kerry Mashford 18/09/2014

At our President's Reception on 17 September, we launched our 'Working towards an energy-literate UK' programme. We announced a number of impactful 'big idea' projects to improve energy literacy and combat the issues raised in our recently-commissioned national energy survey.

Although, through our work and the work of others, the UK has made progress in improving the energy efficiency of our buildings and in adopting greener energy solutions, there is still much that remains to be done.

Enormous potential abounds. With 46% of the UK's carbon dioxide emissions coming from buildings, practical examples show that at least 20% of the energy used in a typical building can be saved through low and no-cost improvements! Newly constructed buildings typically use between two-and-a-half and four-and-a-half times as much energy as predicted – a phenomenon now being called the 'performance gap'. Changes to the way we design, deliver and operate buildings can close this gap dramatically, but many don't know where to start, what to do, or even that such a problem exists.

In order to accelerate improvements in building energy performance and to alleviate the fuel poverty experienced by a shocking 10% or more of the population, we need to increase our individual and collective knowledge of ‘why, what and how’ –  from householders to house hunters, from builders and developers to building managers and staff. In short, we need to increase energy literacy across the UK so that everyone is empowered to ask the right questions, make better decisions and to understand the energy implications of their actions.

Whilst there is growing understanding amongst businesses that operate in the property sector, and although government has offered incentives and financial assistance to stimulate energy improvements in homes and businesses, demand from customers is still low - even though four out of five say they want to reduce their energy consumption. For many, the bar is still too high, the barriers outweigh the benefits and individuals fail to act. We all know the saying that ‘the customer is always right’ – if customers are better informed, are more energy literate, then we believe we can unlock some of this latent demand – there will be much more ‘pull’ and much less need to ‘push’.

The ‘four out of five’ statistic comes from the energy literacy survey conducted on behalf of the National Energy Foundation earlier this month. Our survey also found that, whilst almost three in five (58%) of British adults say that they feel well-informed about energy issues, around two thirds (64%) don’t know the most effective way to make a typical home energy efficient (loft insulation) and less than half correctly estimate the energy consumption of everyday household appliances such as a power shower (44%), or a tumble drier (38%).

People feel much less well-informed about energy at work, with only 11% knowing how much energy is used in their workplace, and around three-quarters of people think their companies, schools and the government should do more towards energy training and education.

People want to reduce their energy consumption to save money and because they are concerned about climate change. But over half of the young adults surveyed say they do not know enough about energy, so there is clearly a need to raise the energy literacy of young people especially as they leave home, enter the workplace and take on responsibility for their own energy bills.

So what are we doing about this and how might other organisations be able to work with us?

We have some really exciting projects in the pipeline - 10 'Big Ideas' projects that respond to the findings of the survey and contribute to achieving a more energy-literate UK, to increasing the ‘pull’ for energy efficient buildings, and to our overall objective of improving the use of energy in buildings.

Painting a picture of what success would look like, here are just two examples:

Aspiring SuperHomers. The first is the extension and expansion of the SuperHomes programme which, since its inception in 2007, has inspired and informed householders to make substantial improvement to the energy and carbon performance of their homes, with 183 achieving coveted SuperHomes status. As fuel prices rise, homeowners, and householders more generally, want to know what steps they can take to make their homes more energy efficient and comfortable - and critically, to have some of their reservations and fears allayed, before they embark on energy-related home improvements. Visiting a SuperHome gives them a real insight into what is possible, the pitfalls they might encounter and how to overcome them. This critical support can turn curiosity into enthusiasm and aspiration into action. 85% of the population currently live within 30 minutes of a SuperHome, but there are still many areas where SuperHomes are rare. We want to extend the SuperHomes network to include more SuperHomes and improved homes, allow many more people to visit them on Open Homes days. Over half of SuperHomes visitors go on to undertake home improvements in the year following their visit, bringing business to local merchants and tradespeople. We know that this works and we just need to do so much more of it....our aspiration is to have a national network of 500 inspiring homes by 2020.

Improving Charity Buildings. The second project tackles the very difficult area of non-domestic buildings. Stimulating interest amongst the vast majority of businesses to improve the properties they own or occupy is really difficult. For most business owners, the buildings they occupy are peripheral to their core business and they are unaware and unempowered to take the steps needed to lower their energy costs and improve their buildings - even when the savings could impact their bottom line more easily than a modest increase in revenue. At the National Energy Foundation we have realised that, if we can help improve non-domestic buildings in the charitable sector then the charities themselves will benefit, releasing more of their funds to devote to their own primary purpose, and we can use these projects as examples to inspire other non-domestic building owners and occupiers to make similar improvements. This project provides potential sponsors with the opportunity to support the overall programme or to focus their support on individual buildings related to local or favourite charities as well as helping to create 25 high-profile improved non-domestic buildings across the UK.

Please talk to us about our project ideas, our work in general and share with us any ideas you have about how we can work together for an energy literate UK. Please also help us choose the most impactful projects to take forward first. We look forward to working with our partners to bring these exciting projects to fruition.