LCCN session: homes and energy efficiency

January 18th, 2012 by Kate Griffin Leave a reply »

How can you get people to care about the link between fuel and climate change when they can’t even afford to pay the gas bill? This question kept coming up, in different ways, during the second morning session I attended at the Low Carbon Communities conference. As Chris Church, session facilitator, put it: “Energy is about bills for many people, not about climate change or renewables.”

He made it clear that any discussion of energy in the home has to put fuel poverty squarely on the agenda, and he started out by reminding us of the official definition of fuel poverty: when a household spends 10% or more of its income on its fuel needs. (Many people don’t know that we wouldn’t even have a definition of the term if groups like Friends of the Earth hadn’t campaigned for it.)

Fuel poverty is caused by three factors: energy efficiency, fuel prices and household income. If you’re coming at the problem from a green perspective, it’s tempting to focus on energy efficiency, but it’s increasingly clear that it’s pointless to separate the environmental problem from the social justice problem. Someone also raised the point that you don’t have to be “poor” to be in fuel poverty; you might be asset-rich because you own an big house, but that doesn’t mean you have the income to heat it.

We got into smaller groups to discuss the problems and challenges that face us when we’re trying to campaign on energy efficiency in the home. The problem of showing we understand immediate challenges like fuel poverty came up again and again: I personally remember someone getting angry with me for worrying about climate change when people are dying of cold in their own homes. Others raised the problem of reaching different groups in society, not just our own friends or “people like us”.

Other challenges that came up during group discussion:

  • Intrusiveness – people are sensitive about their homes
  • Quality of housing stock
  • Trust issues with elderly people
  • Uncertainty because subsidised energy-saving schemes are changing at the moment

Then came the positive bit: what can we do about these challenges? People shared stories from their own low-carbon community groups around the country. So far we’ve…

Raised awareness of the issues, and of the subsidies available, through

  • blogging
  • print newsletters
  • stalls at other people’s events
  • holding our own events (this last from Devizes, where they’re planning an energy event in the town centre).

Helped people to see their own home’s efficiency through imaging with a thermal camera. Sustainable Witney should be getting one of these soon!

Held “open house” days where people can wander round houses that display best practice in energy effiency.

Tried a “draught-busters” scheme where people are trained to do simple energy-efficiency modifications and then go into people’s homes to do them. The example we heard about involved people going round to their neighbours’ houses and sorting out extra insulation on the windows while  sharing wine, nibbles and chat.

Made renewable energy cheaply available through a community woodland programme where people learn coppicing.

Appointed parish fuel poverty champions (Shropshire)

Started a scheme where people get accreditation as energy workers (Middlesborough)

It was encouraging to see just how many ideas are being put into practice in different places around the country. Slightly less encouragingly, we were reminded that sometimes a superfically green agenda actually blocks energy-efficiency schemes. In Hackney, the local building conservation society is fighting the cladding of red-brick buildings, even though this measure will improve their energy efficiency. Some of the people fighting the cladding are members of Sustainable Hackney!

Finally we heard from Jonathan of the Fuel Poverty Action Network, who made the point that in the current economic climate, putting climate as the focus is not working. The green lobby is being wrongly blamed for rising fuel bills and accused of not caring about energy security. We need to challenge the lies, and we can do that partly by accepting that fuel poverty, energy efficiency, climate change and social justice are linked issues.

Wrapping up, Chris Church told us that the Citizens’ Advice Bureau has named the 16th-21st January “Big Energy Week”. It’s a shame that they didn’t do more to involve green organisations, but perhaps there’s still the chance for some groups to contact their local CAB branches and find out if they can get involved.



  1. Kevin says:

    This was an interesting read…

    Told me lots of things I didn’t know, but I couldn’t find the answer to this question there; what percentage of households in the UK are in ‘fuel poverty’?

  2. Kevin says:

    So roughly, it’s somewhere between 1 in 10 and 1 in 5. That’s a significant portion.

    Greg Barker is very enthusiastic about the Green Deal in this piece…

    Concerns me that it’s based on the conservative value “you can’t have ‘owt for nowt.” So if you’ve not got much income, cos you don’t try hard enough, you’re only way to move out of fuel poverty is to move (further) into debt.

    It link’s to Goerge M’s piece on how green policies should also be socially just. I’m tempted to have a stab at the sums on the cost/benefit ratio of solar pv, but that aside, I think he’s nailed the injustice and inefficiency of energy pricing where using more costs less.

    I can think of examples of ‘economies of scale’ fuelling consumption, rather than producing a social good. Is there a significant downside to a progressive sliding scale on energy pricing? Would that negate the need for a new economic currency based on carbon?

    • J-P says:

      Well, the main downside is that it would never get implemented in the current political climate!

      I must say that we were thinking of taking advantage of the Green Deal to get a new boiler fitted – really as a way of deferring costs into the far future – but the Monbiot article has put the wind up me a fair bit. There’s no moral justification for deferring costs when we’re – just about – in a position to pay the full amount now, if it would suck money out of systems that are meant to help those less well off than us.

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