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Policies to reduce energy consumption missing targets

Policies to reduce energy consumption missing targets

New research has shown that policies to reduce energy consumption in homes are missing their targets. Germany’s 2002 regulations were intended to create an 80% reduction by 2050 for energy used for home heating. According to the study, at the present rate reductions could achieve less than 25% by 2050.

The paper ‘Why German homeowners are reluctant to retrofit’, by Ray Galvin, published in Building Research and Information, reveals why German policy is failing to achieve the expected reductions in energy consumption from home heating. It discusses the implications for national energy-saving policies and economic viability of thermal retrofit programmes.

Policies and initiatives can sometimes go wrong, due to lack of evidence, insufficient technical knowledge or lack of appropriate strategies for delivery.

Retrofitting is the addition of new technology or features to older systems. Germany is frequently considered a leader in moving towards the goal of a low-carbon society and has implemented a long-running programme aimed at retrofitting homes for energy efficiency.

Author Dr Ray Galvin commented: “‘For many homeowners the required standards are too high, too inflexible and too expensive to reach”. He added: “If the only permissible choice is 16cm of external wall insulation or no insulation at all, many people simply do nothing”.

The five-year long British-German study found that the policy is based on questionable economics and a failure to appreciate the limitations of old buildings. Faulty policy assumptions were made on the current amount of energy consumed in old homes.  A further miscalculation was made on the projected energy savings from retrofitting homes.

“Instead of basing estimates on the actual, measured consumption of these homes,” says Galvin, “the policy and regulations assume they are consuming the full amount that would be required to keep every room in the house warm and generously ventilated all year round. These homes’ actual consumption averages about 40% less than this, so there is far less savings potential than expected.”

The costs of energy retrofits to homeowners were also underestimated. Interviews with homeowners and housing providers as well as policymakers revealed that homeowners did their own financial calculations and found they would never get their money back through fuel saving.

“The government’s main promotional plank for retrofitting over the last decade has been that it always pays back,” comments Galvin. “When people find it comes nowhere near doing so, they lose confidence in the regulations,’ he says. ‘Even when they do retrofit, their fuel savings are far less than the regulations assume, so Germany’s consumption falls at a much lower rate than expected.”

However, the study suggests it might not be too difficult to reverse these failures. “The government needs to allow more flexibility to fit with the real economic and building situation of each household,’ says Galvin, ‘and drop the idea that thermal retrofitting always pays back. It could still promote top-end retrofitting among well-to-do households for environmental and lifestyle reasons.”

The researchers add: “Other countries can learn these errors, such as the UK’s Green Deal which also focuses on improving the energy efficiency of homes.”

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* Read the full article online:http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/09613218.2014.882738

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