Greenwash on insulation?

4th July, 2011 - Posted by admin - 1 Comment

The following is evidence submitted to the inquiry Social Justice in the Low Carbon Transition by The Associate Parliamentary Renewable and Sustainable Energy Group (PRASEG), and the All-Party Parliamentary Fuel Poverty and Energy Efficiency Group. The inquiry was chaired by Alan Whitehead MP, Caroline Lucas MP and Laura Sandys MP. It’s final report can be found here. The point of the following evidence was to point out:

  • Insulation is not enough
  • Savings made through energy savings as a result of insulation much to small.
  • The rebound effect, where housholds use insulation savings in worse ways, is often ignored.
  • The poor use less energy that the rich- the poor should gain from energy rationing.

The inquiry’s final report does not seem to address these points.

Inquiry – Social Justice in the Low Carbon Transition

1. Warm front – not fit for purpose.

Example: Kirklees Warm Zone

Through phone calls to Kirklees Environment Department in April 2009 I discovered

  • The £150 pa savings for households in Kirklees through the Warm Front programme is probably now £200.
  • Kirklees use software (S2000 Maxim) to estimate these savings.
  • NEA say average annual UK bill is £1065.

This means a saving of approximately 20% on energy for heating before any rebound effect has been taken into account. In this context a rebound effect is where the cash savings are partly spent by keeping homes warmer. Government targets are for a 80% reduction on CO2e emissions by 2050. These improvements will last well in the period ahead.

I know of no follow up studies which actually measure any savings.

Example: Social housing in York

One inhabitant in social housing near the centre of York has, along with five of his neighbours, had a 26,000 watt condensing boiler installed. The flats are in an old refurbished house. Coming in in the evening my contact turns on a halogen heater – on a 600w setting. He sits down in an armchair facing this fire. He is warm instantly.

He found that putting on the 26,000 watt gas boiler to feed into his central heating meant the flat took an hour to heat up and the heat was not as pleasant. He never now puts on the gas boiler. He says his neighbours do not use their central heating either – it simply costs too much.

Issue: Embodied carbon.

An email to me from BRE, May 2009, says

BREEAM does not put an absolute value on the embodied carbon, it’s true. Partly because the science behind the process is still open to debate. It aims to provide a relative assessment, and gives credit to those buildings which choose the lowest impact solutions out of the available options.

I have found that most people think that BREEM calculate embodied carbon. The fact that it doesn’t suggests to me that there is no assessment of the greenhouse gas emissions associated with Warm Front activities.

Issue: Warming the whole dwelling.

Warm Front encourages the attitude that the whole dwelling must be heated to a target temperature. Traditionally this has not been the case. Heating the whole house puts extra strain on insulation by increasing the average temperature gradient from inside to outside.

Issue: Warmer people in cooler houses.

Following the example of the social housing above, the concept of warmer people in cooler homes should be examined. See

Geoff Beacon

4th February 2011

Inquiry – Social Justice in the Low Carbon Transition

1a. Note on Warm Front – an update

In his speech to the Royal Geographic Society – (“The Perfect Storm“, 17 February 2011) Chris Huhne said

After transport, heating is the second biggest driver of energy demand in Britain.

British Gas research suggests that householders who put in energy efficiency measures cut their gas consumption by 44%.

The 44% cut in gas consumption noted is a larger cut than would be expected from my earlier note, which suggests savings of 20% or less were achieved in Kirklees. I add this original note as an appendix. I would like to know why there is such a difference.

Two other points may be relevant.

1. In a speech to the Overseas Development Institute in June 2009, Lord Turner, chair of the Climate Change Committee, said:
…we can pretty much totally decarbonise our electricity generation. UK electricity generation currently puts out approx 550gm of CO2 per KW hour … we believe it’s possible to get to a low of 100g/KW hour by 2030. And 10-20g/ KW hour by 2050.

That’s important not only to take the CO2 out of electricity generation, but once we’ve done that it’s likely we can apply electricity to a wider set of economic activities- largely electrifying the light end of the service transport – cars- and putting electric heating back into our houses, having spent the last 30 years taking it out.

That means removing gas central heating … and gas cookers.

2.See Even worse than you expect? . This discusses the role of gas (methane) in climate change.

Geoff Beacon
26th February 2011

Inquiry – Social Justice in the Low Carbon Transition

2. Fuel poverty and personal carbon rationing.

It is well known that the carbon footprints of countries increase as their wealth increases (1). It is rarely mentioned that poorer households have smaller carbon footprints than the affluent (2). Traded personal carbon rationing is a method of making people with large carbon footprints pay under the “polluter pays” principle. It is also a method of rewarding those with lower than average carbon footprints. Given the demographics of carbon footprints traded personal carbon rationing would, in general, take from the poor to give to the rich.

The previous government initially showed some enthusiasm for personal carbon rations but abandoned the project in 2008. The Guardian reported in May 2008 :

Ministers have scrapped radical plans to test a carbon rationing scheme that would have forced citizens to carry a carbon card to swipe every time they bought petrol or paid an electricity bill.
The plan was announced by David Miliband, former environment secretary, in 2006 as a way to cut greenhouse gas emissions and tackle global warming. But officials from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said today that the idea was too expensive and would be unpopular.

In June 2008, I attended a seminar at IPPR, ”Will personal carbon trading change behaviour? ”. The main speaker was Stephen Elderkin, Analytical co-ordinator for UK carbon budgets and Economic Advisor Climate Change Economics, Defra (3). Mr Elderkin gave some estimates for implementing the personal carbon trading scheme that his team had been investigating. They did seem very high. I thought they seemed too high but I had not seen the report – and still have not (4).

As I remember, I pointed out to Mr Elkin that in the case of electricity and gas, a simple version of the scheme would be cheap and easy to implement. Nearly all households receive electricity bills and the majority of households receive gas bills. All that was necessary was that these bills are made progressively more expensive as the size of the bill for an individual household increases. Again as I remember, Mr Elkin gave no response and I interrupted him a few times to make this point and got no answer.

I was left with the impression that DEFRA thought the political risks of personal carbon trading were too great. In addition, they would resist attempts to restructure electricity and gas bills in a way that would penalise the more affluent households who have higher fuel bills. The effectiveness of such schemes should be tested but my judgement is that it is easy to devise schemes to cut carbon emissions and reduce fuel simply by modifying utility bills. If presented well it is unlikely that they “would be unpopular” especially with those in fuel poverty.

(1) Pollution increases with GDP.  Carbon Footprint of Nations: A Global, Trade-Linked Analysis.

(2) Pollution increases with increased household wealth.

To investigate the effect of demographics on demand for air travel, Beacon Dodsworth carried out a quick calculation using their P2 geo-demographic classification and the Target Group Index from the British Market Research Bureau. This showed that the carbon dioxide from air trips increased very substantially with wealth. Similar calculations for utility bills are likely to produce a similar – but perhaps not so dramatic – effect.

The P2 categories used were:

A01 – Worldly Horizons

  • A05 – Established Prosperity
  • D11 – Matrimonial Homes
  • G17 – Aspiring Streets
  • M35 – Impoverished Elders
  • L37 – Deprived Youth

These are in descending order of wealth. Yearly CO2e from flying was estimated as

  • A01         778 kg
  • A05        756 kg
  • D11         479 kg
  • G17         491 kg
  • M35        372 kg
  • L37         211 kg

The calculation did not take account of any differences between business and standard class.

(3) IPPR Seminar: Will personal carbon trading change behaviour?

Stephen Elderkin, Analytical co-ordinator for UK carbon budgets and Economic Advisor Climate Change Economics, Defra.
Professor Alan Lewis, Head of Economic Psychology, Bath University
Stuart Capstick, Bath University
Thursday 12th June, 3-5pm

(4) DEFRA’s research can be hard to find.

The Wikipedia entry on personal carbon trading contains this link:

DEFRA press release – 8th May 2008

The link does not work so it is difficult to determine if this concerns Mr Elderkin’s research. It would be interesting to see the research.

I have encountered other similar examples. For example, the DEFRA funded research by Dr. Adrian Williams is now very difficult to find. It contains interesting information on the carbon footprints of beef and lamb.
See Can DEFRA be trusted with the climate?

Inquiry – Social Justice in the Low Carbon Transition

2a. Fuel poverty – an update

In a previous note I argued that personal carbon rationing would, in general, take from the poor to give to the rich because the poor have smaller carbon footprints than the rich.

I estimated the effect the effect of demographics on carbon footprints with reference to demand for air travel, using Beacon Dodsworth’s P2 geo-demographic classification. I said similar calculations for utility bills were likely to produce a similar – but perhaps not so dramatic – effect. I have since done some “quick and dirty” calculations, using P2 with the “Expenditure and Food Survey”(1) and “LLSOA electricity and gas: 2008 (experimental)” (2). The graph below is of average kilowatt-hours used per year for domestic meters of electricity and gas combined against disposable normal weekly household income. It shows an increasing use of energy as income increases. The effect is likely to be underestimated because, several people in the wealthier groups will have second homes and spend more time way from their main residence.


Geoff Beacon
26th February 2011

Posted on: July 4, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized

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Geoff Beacon

July 4th, 2011 at 6:37 pm    

Backfire in the Guardian:

“there are some circumstances where seemingly carbon-saving measures actually increase overall emissions – where the change backfires completely. Dr Angela Druckman and her colleagues analysed several different types of patterns of hypothetical household behaviour. Using the basic assumption that the money saved on reducing energy consumption has to be spent on something, they examined several different carbon-saving behaviours, and asked what happens next.”

“They found that on average, only about two-thirds of the calculated carbon reductions are likely to be achieved for typical household actions such as lowering the thermostat or reducing food waste. Money saved on the weekly food bill by reducing food waste is money available for going out for dinner at the exotic Thai restaurant on the weekend. Of course, it is possible that the money saved on the weekly food bill will be spent on an energy-efficient washing machine instead. But it is also possible that the money saved becomes an exotic Thai holiday rather than a Thai meal. In this case, the low-carbon behaviour would have backfired completely.”

“When energy-saving does not mean saving energy”,Guardian Friday 3 June 2011. The paper by Druckman can be found here:

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