Reducing the amount of energy you use at home is a no-brainer, right? Not only can you save money on your energy bills (especially useful around the festive season), but you’ll also help cut carbon emissions, which contribute to climate change.
Here’s the problem – the London Assembly Environment Committee, which I chair, has identified that London isn’t performing well when it comes to reducing domestic carbon emissions. We’ve found that emissions levels are not falling fast enough to meet the target set for London – or to contribute towards national and global targets in place to slow down climate change.
Worryingly, official figures also show that 348,000 London households – roughly one in nine – suffer from fuel poverty. That is, they have a low income, and their energy bills are higher than normal for the type of home they live in.
If you take into account the fact that housing in the capital costs more than anywhere else in the country, the numbers are even worse. As the cold weather draws in, some people will have to choose between heating and eating. Health and well-being suffer.
A stark reminder of the seriousness of fuel poverty came in 2014/15, when 4,000 people died during winter in London alone – a much higher figure than average – and a factor in this number of deaths was cold homes.
London has the target of achieving a 60 per cent reduction in carbon emissions by 2025, but we are not getting there fast enough. The latest progress report shows that by 2013 the capital had reduced its emissions by 11 per cent, but should have reached 17 per cent to be on track for the 2025 goal. Emissions reductions in the next decade need to be much faster, and a large portion of them need to come from our homes. Almost 40 per cent of carbon emissions in London come from people’s homes – this is even worse than transport (22 per cent).
Current regulations require new homes to be built to high standards of energy efficiency – which is obviously a positive step – but most of London’s housing is old, and will still be here in 2025 and even 2050. Older homes often lack energy efficiency measures like wall insulation, loft insulation, double glazing or modern boilers.
Even small fittings like draught excluders, pipe lagging, thermostats, reflective panels behind radiators and water-saving fittings on hot taps and showers can make a big difference to energy bills. Emerging new technologies like smart meters, heating control apps, solar panels and in-home storage batteries now promise to give us even more control over our energy use and bills – this again, shows progression.
In the capital there have been programmes running for several years now to fit homes with energy-saving measures, but progress is too slow. The plan was originally to fit 2.9 million homes with energy saving measures by 2025, with 1.2 million complete by 2015. However, City Hall data suggest that only about 1.1 million will be fitted by 2017, and even this target is becoming increasingly unlikely.
We really do need to find ways to help Londoners lower their energy consumption.
It is important to note that there is competition in the energy market, and attractive rates are available, but the range of deals can be bewildering, and many people are not on the cheapest tariffs as a result. Pre-payment meters are also common, particularly in rented homes and for people who have already had trouble paying their bills. These often have expensive rates.
It’s clear that something needs to change, and the new Mayoralty offers an opportunity. Mayor Sadiq Khan has said that he will set up a not-for-profit organisation called Energy for Londoners, but it is not quite clear exactly what this organisation will do. So far it is hoped that it will buy energy from suppliers – possibly renewable generators in the capital – and sell this energy to Londoners at affordable rates, as well as providing energy efficiency advice and services to help bring homes up to scratch. Some have said it could offer energy efficiency loans as well.
There is a great deal of work to be done in this area, and that is precisely why the Environment Committee is investigating domestic energy and fuel poverty.
The Committee has so far spoken to Shirley Rodrigues, the Deputy Mayor for Environment and Energy, in addition to seeking the opinions of a range of environmental experts during a public meeting. We also encourage views and information in writing and you can find out more about making a submission here.
Watch this space as the Committee will produce a report on ways that the Mayor, and perhaps others, can help Londoners out of fuel poverty. We’re looking for the solution to warmer and more comfortable homes, to lower energy bills and to lower carbon emissions.
Léonie Cooper AM is Chair of the London Assembly Environment Committee
Find out more about the Environment Committee