Shame on the UK government: ignoring its own energy efficiency laws

| 25th January 2017
Ever seen one of these? Nor have most people, even though they are required by law in public buildings: a typical Display Energy Certificate. Image: via
Ever seen one of these? Nor have most people, even though they are required by law in public buildings: a typical Display Energy Certificate. Image: via
The UK's abject failure to implement national and EU laws on energy efficiency in buildings is a disgrace, writes Andrew Warren, and one that is costing us dear in higher fuel bills now and for long into the future, while adding to air pollution and climate change.
Failure to implement the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive means that all of us are paying the penalty of excess fuel bills, as we continue to occupy unnecessarily wasteful buildings.

It is now eighteen years since I was invited by the business directorate (DG Enterprise) of the European Commission to chair an inquiry into 'Sustainable construction and energy efficiency'.

My (large) committee consisted of national civil servants, professionals from the construction sector, and EC officials.

We published our unanimous recommendations in 2001. And effectively they became the core of the new Energy Performance of Buildings Directive.

It became a law agreed by the national governments and the European Parliament within a breathtaking eleven months. The text was 'strengthened' in 2010. Last month, as agreed under its' Article 19, the directive was formally reviewed again by the EC with national governments.

The timetable to increase its effectiveness further is set for completion by early 2019. That is the year during which the present UK Government has announced it intends to complete formal negotiations to withdraw from membership of the European Union.

So theoretically this revision process is of marginal interest to UK citizens?

Er, no, not quite. For a start it is accepted that at least initially all European Directives will remain in force in the UK. It will then theoretically be a case of establishing which directives are deemed still to be useful. With those considered otiose subsequently abandoned.

It is therefore still very pertinent to consider precisely what the present requirements of the EPBD are. And whether or not we in the UK are actually making the best use of - or even bothering to implement - what currently is the law of the land.

Britain's total disregard of the law - thanks George Osborne!

Essentially the provisions of the Directive cover the efficiency of energy used for space and hot water heating, cooling, ventilations and lighting. This is in new and existing residential and non-residential buildings.

Article 9 sets a deadline for all new buildings to be "nearly zero-energy buildings" by 2020; this includes all existing buildings undergoing major renovation.

Such deadlines are set to be achieved in each of the devolved nations. But to the palpable fury of Lord Deben, chairman of the Committee on Climate Change, in 2015 all such requirements were - without prior warning or discussion - abandoned in England by the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne. Current building codes remain nowhere near zero-carbon.

So, there is one obvious example of non-compliance. I fear there are rather too many others.

Article 4 requires each government to provide an official comparative methodology to calculate cost-optimal levels for setting minimum standards of energy performance.

For existing buildings, Article 7 states that these minimum energy performance requirements must apply whenever a major renovation is carried out, whatever the building size. It is dubious whether the final (2013) round of Building Regulations changes seriously delivers any of this.

Under Article 10, the Government must publish and publicise, every three years beginning June 2011, all financial incentives available nationally to stimulate the take-up of such measures. Given the dearth of such publicly funded carrots, the latest list (due this June) may be of distinctly limited value.

Then there are Display Energy Certificates (DECs). Under Article 13, every single public building over 250 sq. metres must display "in a prominent position" its energy rating. Despite this, in 2014 the Government issued a public consultation proposing to abolish the need for DECs. This led to massive protests from energy professionals, pointing out how much public money the scheme was demonstrably saving.

But here we are in 2017, and the relevant Department, Communities & Local Government, has still not announced formally any conclusions to this consultation.

Without enforcement, the law is already a dead letter

Meanwhile it has become clear that occupants of few if any of the 50,000 relevant buildings are now bothering to acquire an up-to-date DEC, let alone display it. And even fewer Trading Standards Departments are bothering to check upon compliance.

Article 13 also requires every single private sector building over 500 sq. metres which is "frequently visited by the public" to display its energy rating. The UK Government has taken absolutely no steps to date to require this.

Despite some valiant attempts by charities like the National Energy Foundation to promote voluntary compliance, involvement even by the ostensibly most eco-aware of companies has been at best sporadic. And mostly non-existent.

Article 16 requires regular inspection of heating and air-conditioning systems. Whilst even by 2011 the UK had developed standard reporting provisions for air-conditioning, but there has been precious little take-up. And whilst the private rented sector has long required annual gas heating safety inspections, these still pay negligible attention to energy efficiency.

Article 11 and 12 concern the issuing, and publicising, of Energy Performance Certificates. These give both relative ratings from A to G, just like refrigerators or washing machines, and in addition provide advice regarding improvements. For property purchases, EPCs are (mostly) now issued. Tenants get a far worse deal: only 1 in 4 newly rented homes, and 1 in 2 leased commercial properties, have an extant EPC - even one ten years old - which is still legally permissible.

In short, we in the UK are lamentably failing to implement even the existing Directive that we long since signed up to.

Article 27 requires our government to introduce "effective, proportionate and dissuasive penalties" for non-compliance with the Directive. These don't exist. Instead, failure to implement the EPBD purposefully means that all of us are paying the penalty of excess fuel bills, as we continue to occupy unnecessarily wasteful buildings.



Andrew Warren is Chairman of the British Energy Efficiency Federation.

This article was originally published in Energy in Buildings & Industry.

Help us keep The Ecologist working for the planet

The Ecologist website is a free service, published by The Resurgence Trust, a UK-based educational charity. We work hard - with a small budget and tiny editorial team - to bring you the wide-ranging, independent journalism we know you value and enjoy, but we need your help. Please make a donation to support The Ecologist platform. Thank you!

Donate to us here