Little progress made on energy efficiency in UK homes, report finds

<span>Photograph: Leon Neal/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Leon Neal/Getty Images

Ministers have made negligible progress in improving the energy efficiency of the UK’s homes even as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has underscored the need to cut the reliance on gas for home heating, according to the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC).

The independent infrastructure tsars’ annual report warned that the progress towards improving the UK’s infrastructure “stuttered further” last year, despite the need for increased investment to meet its economic and climate goals.

The report took aim at the government’s record on insulating the UK’s draughty housing stock and the sluggish take-up of electric heat pumps to help cut emissions from home heating, even as the UK’s reliance on gas cost the economy billions due to Europe’s energy crisis.

Sir John Armitt, the chair of the NIC, said there was “a significant gap between long-term ambition and current performance”, which required “a change of gear in infrastructure policy”.

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“This means fewer low-stakes incremental changes and instead placing some bigger strategic bets, backed by public funding where necessary – after all, the risk of delay in addressing climate change is now greater than the risk of over-correction,” Armitt said.

Despite a government ambition for at least 600,000 heat pumps to be installed each year by 2028, only 55,000 were fitted in 2021, while 1.5m gas boilers were fitted. The NIC blamed insufficient government funding and the absence of key policies for the lack of progress and urged the government to develop a concrete plan.

The UK remains too reliant on natural gas, which is “a high-cost, high-carbon and insecure source of energy”, the NIC said.

“In 2022, the sharp rise in gas prices prompted by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine increased the cost of energy and jeopardised security of supply. The government is now directly subsidising the energy consumption of households and businesses, setting prices for the average household at £2,500 per year between October 2022 and June 2023,” the report said.

The government’s efforts to decarbonise the transport sector has also stalled, according to the report. Ministers expected 300,000 public electric vehicle charge points to be in place by 2030 but only 37,000 have been installed, the report said.

The report noted some positive progress in the government’s rollout of gigabit broadband and the UK’s rising renewable electricity generation. It also praised its efforts in continuing to implement further devolution and in developing plans to increase water supply.

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However, in other areas the government is not delivering fast enough. Armitt said a “further year of prevarication risks losing momentum on critical areas like achieving the statutory net zero target. Rarely has the need for speed been more evident”.

The NIC report comes as ministers prepare to present an “energy security day” on Thursday. The revamped net zero strategy will be presented from the UK’s oil and gas capital, Aberdeen, in a clear signal of the government’s intention to boost the fossil fuel industry while cutting key green measures.

A government spokesperson said: “We are committed to achieving our net zero goals and are spending £12.6bn this decade to cut national energy consumption by 15%. Delivering high-quality infrastructure is the foundation of our future growth and we have maintained our total investment at record levels over the next five years.”