Clean Growth

Antoinette Sandbach: Lower bills, less waste and better health. Time to insulate UK homes.

By Antoinette Sandbach MP

By Antoinette Sandbach MP

Published on Conservative Home

Last year, unnecessary winter deaths topped 50,000 – and more than 15,000 of these are directly relatable to a cold home.

This figure is shameful, and represents a huge amount of suffering. It is also clearly avoidable. There can be no justification for cold homes in the UK, blighting the lives of the neediest in society and leading to knock-on effects that spread through the economy – from lost working days to hospital visits and tumbling morale.

Before fingers start to be pointed, we must be clear: this figure is not due to rising energy bills, which, on average, have fallen over the past decade. They are also declining as a percentage of household income, the latest Ofgem data shows, as energy-hungry appliances are replaced with low-power alternatives and inefficient gas boilers are upgraded to the latest technology.

But while our TVs, computers and fridges are costing less to run, we still waste a huge amount of energy from UK homes in the form of heat. This is one of the largest open goals in UK politics: the lack of measures to insulate our homes and slash how much energy is wasted from leaky windows and poorly insulated walls and roofs.

Since 2008, the Government has logged the energy efficiency of UK homes as they have been sold or built; a register of 16 million homes that cover close to 1.5 billion square meters of British soil. They make for unpleasant reading. Upwards of 11 million of these miss the EPC C rating, which should be the bare minimum for any home.

This isn’t just a problem with older homes, in 2017, the largest entry on the register was band D properties, while more than 1.1 million properties are F- or G-rated, from which heat will be pouring out. Unquestionably, the homes of the poorest are likely to be the least-well insulated.

In addition to costing more to run, wasting so much heat requires us to import more gas from overseas, as well as unnecessarily adding to national carbon emissions. Imagine another aspect of life that was this wasteful. Cars that had not improved fuel efficiency in years, or businesses choosing not to boost competitiveness by reducing energy costs. It just doesn’t make sense.

Poorly insulated homes are also not fit for the future, something that Government is more than aware of. The Clean Growth Strategy aims to upgrade as many homes as possible to EPC grade C by 2035, but, unfortunately, is light on detail about how we get there.

Luckily, enthusiasm on both benches should help them decide. Building on recently-passed legislation that will ensure rented homes are warmer, cheaper and more pleasant to live in, a bill is working its way through the house on the potential for technology to boost energy efficiency. UK companies are among the market leaders in developing low-carbon tech, including on innovative efficiency kit, but without a route to market many of them will continue to rely on sales overseas.

A much-needed inquiry from the BEIS committee into energy waste will inject expert opinion into the debate, throwing forward a host of policies that can help us slash energy waste across the nation.

Legislation to ensure that new homes are built to the highest possible standards must, surely, make sense. Opposition from the housebuilding oligopoly needs to be shouted down, with developers forced to build high quality homes that will be cheap to run for decades to come.

The failure of the last wide-reaching piece of efficiency legislation – the Coalition-introduced Green Deal – should not dissuade ministers from acting in this space. It won’t be difficult to get this right – ensuring that new homes are built to the highest standards and that homeowners are incentivised to upgrade windows and insulate lofts.

After all, less money spent on heating leaves more to pump into the economy; research has shown that every pound invested in energy efficiency will boost GDP by £3.20 as the country is left with more disposable income to spend on household bills, new clothes or weekends away.

Other countries manage to insulate their homes far better than we do; it is not right that Britain should fall behind on such a simple act. If we get this right – and there is no reason why we should not – morbid headlines about winter deaths will rightly become a thing of the past and we as a nation will be able to take pride in all of society living in high quality homes.

Simon Clarke: The best birthday gift for the Climate Change Act

By Simon Clarke MP

By Simon Clarke MP

Today is the 10 year anniversary of the Climate Change Act, and we have a lot to celebrate. We have led the world in reducing our emissions, whilst still growing the economy - but if we want to meet our Paris commitments to keep global warming under 2°C, then we need to go beyond the 80% reduction outlined in the Climate Change Act and reach for Net Zero. On a day when we celebrate our legacy in fighting climate change, we should also pledge to lead the world and end our contribution to global emissions altogether.

Since 1990, we have reduced our emissions by over two-fifths while growing the economy by more than two-thirds. This is a world leading achievement that we should be proud of, with our Climate Change Act creating and supporting the pathways to this result. Our record of clean growth has also seen the creation of industries like offshore wind, which overcame all obstacles and critics to reduce its cost by 50% in just five years. This is the legacy of clean technologies, led by British industry and creating British jobs.

While this record is impressive, there is a real opportunity for us to go even further, and indeed we should do so if we aim to meet our 2°C  Paris pledges. The IPCC report was clear that keeping global warming under 2°C  means going beyond the 80% emissions reduction outlined in the Climate Change Act. It was also clear about the impacts of missing the 2°C goal, and the devastating impact it would have on the likelihood and severity of flooding, and so on. As Michael Howard wrote, ‘it has never been a Conservative value to be ‘anti-science’. When climate scientists speak, we should listen’.

It wasn’t that long ago that reaching net zero emissions would have seemed like a pipe dream, particularly to Conservatives and even to some scientists. Yet our businesses have more than risen to that challenge, with the offshore wind industry as a prime example. Others in the transport sector have also made innovative strides, and now over their lifetime electric vehicles are even cheaper than their fossil fuel guzzling counterparts. This is again, the legacy of the Climate Change Act, setting clear expectations for industry and asking them to plan accordingly. Giving them the incentives to innovate, as they have done.

A pledge to go net zero would take this a step further, and offer the same opportunity for the market to succeed. Giving business certainty and clarity is vital, and they can respond by continuing to bring down costs in a variety of ways. A recent optimistic report from WWF and Vivid Economics looked at the possibilities of going Net Zero by 2045, and what we would need to do to reach this.

As Michael Howard also wrote, ‘we are cleaner and greener than a generation ago’. I hope that the next generation will be cleaner and greener still. In ten years’ time, on the 20th anniversary of the Climate Change Act, we can be well on our way to a world in which we don’t contribute at all to global emissions - a world where we are truly tackling climate change and leading the world in doing so. That would certainly be a record to be proud of, just as we can be proud today of what we have achieved so far

Getting ahead of the game for the economic opportunities of Net Zero

By CEN Ambassador Naomi Harris

By CEN Ambassador Naomi Harris

In the week that we celebrate the 10th birthday of the Climate Change Act I conducted a completely unscientific straw poll of 21 people and found that only four had heard of the term Net Zero. Four. Out of 21. And only one of these four were able to say anything more than ‘…hmmm…erm…carbon?’

To me that figure is eye opening, especially when you consider that all of those 21, all of whom shall remain nameless, are news junkies and all but one are in their 20s.

What does this trivial figure open our eyes to? Net Zero just hasn’t registered in public consciousness yet. Why? It’s not piqued people’s interest. It’s not seen as exciting. It’s not seen as an achievement to strive towards.

You may be reading this and thinking to yourself that Conservatives would be fools to spend time talking about Net Zero when so few people know what it is. For me this overlooks the opportunity for us to get ahead of the game, to put in place the building blocks for the country’s bright future, and to drive positive change that leaves the environment in a better place than we found it.  

We all know that the country is fed up to the back teeth with incessant talk about Brexit and is crying out for something positive to get behind. So, as Conservatives, let’s do just that.

For the economy, the opportunities of Net Zero are clear.  

We are perilously close, 12 years according to the latest UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, to keeping global warming to a maximum of 1.5C. More effort, from everybody, is needed to avoid the world from creeping over this uptick and unleashing the extreme weather, flooding and droughts, falling air quality, habitat extinction, and unprecedented movement of people that would follow. The constant refrain to ‘business hating uncertainty’ would be put into perspective should the impact of these things be felt on supply chains, share prices and consumer spending power.

Not only could Net Zero help by contributing towards global efforts to avoid the worst repercussions of climate change it could foster growth, innovation, jobs, and value creation.

Since 1990, the UK’s emissions have gone down by 40% while the economy has grown by over 60% -showing that green growth is possible. The low-carbon sector supports more than 400,000 jobs in the UK and this number is expected to grow by 11% per year up to 2030. This is four times more than the rest of the economy.

The reason why? The green economy is moving at a rate of knots from a narrow focus on power generation to a broader focus on blending decarbonisation with digitisation. This means that parts of the economy that were historically ‘out of bounds’ are becoming rapidly greener and connected to other sectors as a consequence. Just look at electric vehicles as an example. Auto manufacturers and energy retailers are working together in a way that was a dream when the Climate Change Act was signed.

What’s more, we can be proud that in 2018, 20% of electric vehicles sold in Europe were made in the UK, while more than half of our country’s electricity comes from low-carbon sources with 32% from renewables. And there is more to come. Digitisation is opening up a whole world that allows consumers to take greater control of their energy use at the same time as the cost of renewables continues to come down. Onshore wind is already the cheapest technology, but by 2020, the International Renewable Energy Agency predicts that all renewables will be as cheap, or cheaper than fossil fuels – costing between 2p and 7p per kilowatt hour.

It is people who will benefit from the falling cost of energy and it is people who will benefit from the improved air quality and better health that goes hand in hand with falling emissions.

As Conservatives, let us talk confidently about what the ambition to reduce the country’s emissions to Net Zero could mean for the economy and for people’s lives. Net Zero is affordable and it is feasible. Most importantly it is desirable. Let’s not waste any time in getting on and driving towards it.

Zac Goldsmith: The Government should think again on fracking planning changes

By Zac Goldsmith MP

By Zac Goldsmith MP

Despite false starts and a few tremors, fracking has begun again in the UK for the first time since 2011. In large part thanks to this long delay, the Government is now proposing to make it easier for developers to start drilling by loosening the planning rules relating to it, and reducing the power that local people have over new fracking sites in their area.

Under current proposals so-called “exploratory drilling” could be approved via permitted development - bypassing the standard planning process. Exploratory drilling would, in planning terms, be treated along the same lines as a new conservatory. Meanwhile, decisions on full-scale fracking could be approved by Westminster via the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project Regime - rather than by elected local councils.

This would be a huge mistake. Whatever the arguments for fracking, a firm commitment to local democracy has rightly been a mantra of modern conservatism. It is only at the local level that local concerns can properly be taken into account. When a local authority reviews a shale gas application it will look at very local issues, from road access, the effects of large volumes of truck movements, light and noise pollution and so on. No one can argue that central Government can possibly understand these local concerns from Whitehall.

The Government cannot square its often-stated commitment to localism and democratic planning with these proposals. Nor for that matter can they be squared with the Government’s policy in relation to the far less disruptive and more popular on-shore wind turbines, which can be rejected or approved locally.

Given the potential for methane leakages, the Committee on Climate Change are sceptical that fracking can be done in a way that is environmentally friendly - but they acknowledge that gas will continue to play a part of our energy mix for decades, as a bridge from a world powered by fossil fuels to a net zero emissions economy. Indeed part of the Government’s success in decarbonisation in recent years has been the shift from generating electricity from coal to gas - although it is worth stating that new renewables, including wind and solar, are now cheaper than both.

But the argument that fracking will reduce our reliance on Russian gas simply does not stand up to scrutiny. According to Ministers in 2016 just 1% of UK gas came from Russia. The largest amount of our gas is imported from Norway - a friend and ally that is highly unlikely to turn off the taps any time soon.

In addition, to replace this imported gas, we would need to frack on a hopelessly unrealistic scale. To replace just 50% of the gas that we import, the British countryside would need to be pockmarked by over 6,000 well pads. The UK is not Utah. Without the wide open spaces needed to host the industrial equipment and sheer volume of trucks, fracking in the UK will necessarily blight communities - and the Government will face a huge backlash from these communities if it imposes fracking on them against their will.

It is difficult to overstate just how unpopular fracking is with the British public. The last BEIS attitude tracker showed only 18% support. For context, 76% of respondents supported onshore wind. Fracking is so unpopular that BEIS have now stopped asking what people think about it for fear of the results. MPs who have sites in their constituencies will tell you that those opposed to fracking are not just the predictable gaggle of left-wing campaigners - these are Conservative voters who are deeply about concerned about the mass-scale industrialisation of the British countryside. We ignore their concerns at our peril.

This unpopularity explains the delay in fracking in the UK. Understandably, people do not want the trucks, the tremors, the noise, the nuisance, and the pollution coming to their area. The response from the Government cannot be to simply change the rules and make it harder for concerned local people - and even elected local representatives - to object. By holding a consultation on planning regulations the Government has fulfilled its manifesto commitment to review the planning rules around exploratory drilling and fracking.

But by now, the Government surely has its answer: the final say on fracking should remain with local people.

Robert Courts: It is within our power to save our precious natural inheritance

By Robert Courts MP

By Robert Courts MP

“While the conventional, political dangers—the threat of global annihilation, the fact of regional war—appear to be receding, we have all recently become aware of another insidious danger.

It is as menacing in its way as those more accustomed perils with which international diplomacy has concerned itself for centuries.

It is the prospect of irretrievable damage to the atmosphere, to the oceans, to earth itself.”

-       Margaret Thatcher, Speech to United Nations General Assembly, 1989 Nov 8

The threats posed to our natural world have become increasingly clear since Margaret Thatcher became the first world leader to raise climate change at the UN. Last week the IPCC’s latest report warned of the millions more who would be driven from their homes by rising sea levels, the increasing flood damage both in the UK and abroad, and the economic growth lost in a world in which we fail to limit global warming to 1.5C.

The report also highlighted the threat climate change poses to some of the planets most beautiful flora and fauna. The science is clear: every fraction of a degree matters. Unless we limit global warming to 1.5C we could lose virtually all of the world’s coral reefs by 2100 and expose our marine environments to even greater risks than those covered by Blue Planet II. As a diver, and a marine conservation society member, I’m therefore delighted that the Government has formally asked the Committee on Climate Change for their advice on bringing our climate targets in line with the Paris Agreement, and limiting global warming to 1.5C by going net zero. This will not be easy, but with political will and investment in new technologies like electric vehicles and cheap renewable energy, we can protect our planet from the worst effects of climate change. 

Last week’s Illegal Wildlife Trade conference highlighted another threat posed to the natural world. Serious organised crime on a huge scale is hastening a mass annihilation of species. The figures are stark. Africa’s elephant population has declined by 70% since 1979. There are only 3,800 tigers left in the wild. Four rhinos, one of the most endangered species on the planet, are killed every day for their horns. Thanks to poaching and habitat loss, our children could soon be growing up in a world without rhinos, elephants and tigers - a world robbed of some of the planet’s most magnificent and majestic species.

We can be proud of the work the UK did last week in bringing together countries to fight back against this evil trade - and in leading the way with our own ivory ban. We must now encourage other countries - not least in the main markets for ivory in the Far East, to do the same. 

Here in the UK, the Government has taken a big step towards protecting and enhancing our natural inheritance with a new Agriculture Bill.

The EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) has decimated British wildlife, while failing to properly support farmers to invest in their businesses. Since 1970 there has been a significant decline in the numbers of British woodland and farmland birds. Pollinating insects have declined by 13 per cent since 1980. CAP payments are regressive and poor value for money for taxpayers - the largest landowners get the bulk of the money with little to no strings attached. Perversely, CAP often penalises those farmers looking to improve our natural environment - for example farmers lose direct payments if they plant trees on their land, because they are taking it out of agricultural production.

The Government’s new scheme will be based on the principle of public money for public goods. Farmers and land managers will be rewarded for the work they do to enhance our precious natural environment. Public goods will include the enriching of wildlife habitats and improving the quality of air, water and soil – natural assets upon which our wellbeing and economic prosperity depend.

We will continue to champion farmers in their core business of producing world-class food and help them to make their businesses more resilient, productive and internationally competitive. However, there is an argument that production of food, for which there is already a flourishing private market - does not require public subsidy - instead public money will be used to support those ecological goods for which there is no market.

This new system will also contribute to reducing flood risk, and help us to prevent and mitigate the effects of climate change. As we move to a net zero society, emissions from agriculture will have to fall. Through the restoration of the British countryside, the Government’s Agriculture Bill will help us protect British nature, while reducing the emissions that threaten wildlife around the world.

As Margaret Thatcher said we are in a struggle to preserve our oceans, our atmosphere, and even the earth itself. Yet with a clear trajectory to reduce our emission to net zero, policies to make that a reality, action to protect our most beautiful species and investment in innovative new technologies, it is a struggle I am confident we can win.

As dire as the IPCC’s report is, it offers opportunity and hope. If we act.

By CEN Ambassador Barney Wharton

By CEN Ambassador Barney Wharton

Last Monday, the IPCC published its assessment of the need to limit global temperature rises to 1.5oC. It is depressing, but required reading. The authors set out starkly that failing to limit emissions and temperature increases will have permanent and devasting impacts on a wide range of ecologies and societies around the world. It is absolutely clear that we, as a global community, need to cut our greenhouse gas emissions and be carbon neutral by the middle of this century.

For electricity, this means eliminating coal from the energy mix and generating 80% of our electricity from renewables by 2050, even while demand rises due to the growth of electric vehicles and rising living standards in developing nations. This seems daunting, but I am confident that the decarbonisation of our energy system offers industrial opportunity, growth and prosperity, if we act now.

I am optimistic because the old assumptions about how the energy system works are no longer true.  I attended the Conservative party conference once again this year. In between catching up with old friends at the Hyatt, and attending receptions that I had been invited to, and a few I hadn’t, I did manage to get to a few fringes. One of those was entitled “Transcending the trilemma”. It looked at the idea that the three central objectives in the energy system – cost, carbon and security of supply - are in competition: that clean energy is more expensive, or that a more secure system has more emissions. It was an interesting debate, but the tense was wrong: we have already transcended the trilemma, and new opportunities are open to us.

Oil prices are now at their highest since 2014. This feeds through to gas, and ultimately electricity prices. Average daily spot prices in the UK’s electricity market have been over £60/MWh (6p/kWh), and regularly more than £80/MWh in recent weeks. Compare this cost to the most recent auctions for offshore wind, at which new generation was secured at £57.50/MWh (2012 prices) and onshore generation in Germany at less than £40/MWh. Wind is now the cheapest form of new generation available and building more will bring bills down. In Africa, microgrids combining solar and batteries are the quickest and cheapest way of providing power to the world’s poorest people. Low carbon is synonymous with low cost.

When the IPCC report was published on Monday, wind was generating 30% of the UK’s power. You may have noticed that the lights did not go out on Monday; there were no power cuts. Or maybe you didn’t, because it is what you expect from a modern energy system. Indeed, the UK has one of the most stable grids in the world – other countries look to the UK to see how to successfully integrate renewables into the system. We are doing this through developing new markets which are creating a flexible energy system. The falling costs of batteries are driving the growth of large-scale electricity storage. Ever more sophisticated use of data and software, combined with increasing digitisation, is allowing us to manage both the demand and supply sides of the system more effectively. Innovation means that security of supply no longer relies on firing up the gas plants.

And this gives me hope, despite the IPCCs’ depressing assessment. I strongly believe in the power of both human ingenuity and the market, but helped by a clear direction set by government. Here in the UK we have among the highest renewable energy mixes in the world – 30% last year, up from 7% in 2010. This is a trend that can and will need to continue. Competitive auctions for new power contracts have delivered the UK’s world-leading offshore industry, and the sector has the ambition to quadruple deployment by 2030. But we need more onshore wind, marine and solar in the mix, combined with an ever smarter and more flexible system. We have the technologies and skills, but these can only deliver with a long-term energy policy that supports competitive markets for renewable technologies and new smart energy services.

A robust domestic energy policy presents further opportunities, especially as we look to global markets following Brexit. In China, the reliance on coal means that the number one cause of civil unrest is pollution. They are all too aware that they urgently need to decarbonise their electricity generation. Next week I am joining a delegation of around 20 small and medium British businesses in the offshore wind industry to China. The UK’s expertise in subsea surveying, cable laying and crew transfer is something that the Chinese desperately need if they are going to succeed in their ambition to become an economy based on low carbon generation.

The IPCC report gave a dire assessment of the future of our environment if we continue along our current path. We need urgent action across the global economy to cut emissions. This action will need investment from businesses, government and individuals. However, this also means the creation of markets for new and ground-breaking technologies. An outward looking nation, that has a history of innovation, industrial strength and entrepreneurial spirit, as well as possessing the technologies that the world needs, should not see this as a challenge, but an opportunity. We must grasp it.

Barney Wharton is Head of Policy at RenewableUK; a Conservative Environment Network Ambassador and a member of the Cities of London and Westminster Conservative Party.

Targeted policies not new targets will accelerate the EV transition

By Sam Richards

By Sam Richards

As the UK hosts a Zero emission vehicles summit, CEN Director Sam Richards takes a look at suggestions to boost EV uptake

This week, the UK hosted its Zero emission summit in Birmingham. We all know the stats: the UK produces 1 in 5 EVs sold in Europe, it has the largest battery plant in Europe - both a result of Nissan’s presence in Sunderland, and has the second-highest number of electric and hybrids on the road in Europe, only just pipped to the post by Norway. Given our rich history of automotive manufacturing we are in pole position (sorry) to lead the world in the electrification of transport.

There is a twin imperative to speed up this transition. First, transport is now the highest emitting sector in the UK economy. To even hit our existing climate change targets - let alone those required by reaching net zero - GHG emissions from transport need to start coming down, fast. Secondly, poor air quality blights too many British cities. A recent study by KCL showed that in 2010 there was the equivalent of up to 5,900 premature deaths across London associated with long term NO2 exposure.

Some green groups like Green Alliance and WWF argue that the best way to accelerate the process is to bring forward the target date for the phase out of diesel and petrol cars from 2040 to 2030. Their argument is that this sends a clear signal to investors that the UK is serious about the electrification of transport, and will encourage automotive manufacturers to get a move on and start selling us EVs. An interesting blog from the excellent Matt Finch found that automotive manufacturers could be doing more, to say the least, to advertise new electric models.

Privately, major manufacturers say that clear milestones offer helpful signals. Yet while bringing forward the phase-out date would be good headline material, it’s hard to see it making a big difference in either boosting UK manufacturing or increasing demand for EVs.

First off: the equation for manufacturers when deciding where to build their next model is simple - what’s the total cost of production? They add up labour costs, supply costs, transportation costs, energy costs and so on - then they build the new model where its cheapest. If it’s cheaper to build the new LEAF in Barcelona than Sunderland, that’s where it will be built. There’s an argument that if bringing forward the target boosts domestic demand, that could reduce transportation costs, but this seems too marginal to tip the balance.

The best way to boost EV manufacturing in the UK? Bring down costs for businesses. The UK has some of the highest industrial energy costs in Europe - so let’s make it easier for businesses to procure new cheap renewable power, possibly via Government backed PPAs. In order for EV manufacturing to take place here we’ll need high tech suppliers we currently lack - government support for a supply chain cluster now would be much more useful for manufacturers than a new future target date.

It’s also unclear that a 2030 target boosts domestic demand - beyond perhaps encouraging manufacturers to give us the hard sell on EVs sooner. We know that over the next 5 years there will be countless new electric models, all with longer ranges and more functions than previous EVs. Manufacturers are desperate to be seen as owning the zero emissions future. What I’m saying is don’t worry: car manufacturers still want to sell cars. The hard sell is coming.

What we need now are tangible, targeted policies to boost demand. Tackling range anxiety with the rollout of more charge points. Extending the Plug-in Car Grant to keep the sticker price of EVs competitive in the short term before they can compete on up front costs with ICEs - which could come as soon as the mid 2020s.

The market is already delivering cheaper EVs with longer ranges - and with cost reductions coming in 5 years’ time there will be no reason not to buy an EV.  The Government is supporting them in this, with neat ideas like the new green number plates, and more substantial policies, like cash for battery R&D. The current course is the right one. We don’t need a new long term phase out date - sensible, targeted policies that boost demand and back business will be much more effective for speeding up the EV transition.

Rebecca Pow: We can bring down energy bills even further with new clean tech

By Rebecca Pow MP

By Rebecca Pow MP

The Government has a great record on bringing down bills - and new clean tech offers us the opportunity to cut them ever further

We know that policies to tackle climate change are both popular and necessary. Yet the untold story is how much money we are saving as a direct result of cutting emissions - and how much more we could save yet. British homes are now paying nearly £4 billion less for electricity and gas than they were in 2008. A significant proportion of this can be attributed to more efficient appliances and better insulated homes. The old energy trilemma - balancing up cost, carbon emissions and security of supply - could be solved: it turns out measures to tackle climate change are saving us money on our energy bills. The same dataset above shows that the average dual fuel bills was £6 lower (when adjusted for weather conditions, £36 without adjustment) in 2017 than in 2016, and more than £150 lower than in 2013.

I support the Government’s energy price cap - which should be seen as an intervention to rebalance a lopsided market. As the founder of clean tech firm Octopus recently said “For too long, the Big Six have been using every trick in the book to overcharge 17 millions households, with customers throughout the UK overpaying to subsidise the inefficiency of these bloated giants.”

Yet the deepest cost reductions will come from private sector innovation and new clean tech. Our Government has made a real commitment to promoting innovative technology, with significant investments in storage and offshore wind. As the massive cost reductions in wind power have shown this support is delivering results, and as the costs of renewables and batteries continue to fall, so too will our bills. However there is more that can be done. That’s why I’m calling for a public consultation on new technologies to enable companies to illustrate to the Government how their inventions can help achieve energy policy objectives - stimulating further investment and even greater innovation. It’s vital this covers applications not just for domestic households but also applications for business and commercial use.  

Take one example - Stored Passive Flue Gas. This British invention significantly improves the efficiency and domestic hot water performance of A rated condensing gas boilers, thereby helping households save around £100 a year on their gas and water bills because the boiler will be more efficient.  If fitted into every home with a gas boiler, we also could see savings of 2.6 million tonnes of CO2 each year. Reducing emissions and cutting bills.

Or take another snappily-named device related to gas systems - Metrology for Acoustic Recognition of Gas Optimised services (MARGO). Another British invention, this new smart billing system can more accurately measure the gas supplied to, and therefore the Co2 produced by, households already installed with existing mechanical gas meters. If widely installed it could reduce reported household CO2 emissions by 10% a year - equating to households saving 4 % a year on gas bills.

These are just two examples - smart technology from heat pumps to hydrogen boilers will soon be helping to cut emissions and costs across the country. The National Infrastructure Commission estimate that the new decentralised, flexible, smart grid could save consumers £8bn every year.

I hope that a new public consultation on clean tech could stimulate further ideas and investment and so lead to lower fuel bills and less emissions of CO2. This will benefit not just my constituents in Taunton Deane, but people everywhere by reducing fuel bills and creating a cleaner environment. With our technical expertise and existing experience UK has the opportunity to become a hub for investment in new clean technology. We should seize this opportunity to maintain our position of climate leadership and bring down bills for consumers.

The power of the Great Green British Consumer

By Megan Trethewey

By Megan Trethewey

‘A free market economy, operating under the right rules and regulations, is the greatest agent of collective human progress ever created’. The Prime Minister has repeated this mantra many times since she entered Number 10, but the balance between the invisible hand of the market and the ‘right rules and regulations’ can be a tricky one. This is particularly true in environmental policy – but more rules and regulations aren’t always the answer when consumers can exercise their power over the market. With more eco-brands out there – and more climate warnings from scientists – individuals should be taking responsibility, and using their power to make cleaner, greener choices.

The Government of course plays an important role in nudging consumers in the right direction. The 5p levy on plastic bags was criticised as a tax from a ‘nanny state’ by some MPs (Philip Davies), but small policies like this can have an important impact. According to some scientists, there has been a 30 per cent reduction in plastic bags in the ocean off the UK’s coastline and around some European countries since these charges were introduced.

Plans to end the sale of new petrol and diesel cars from 2040 signal both to consumers, and investors, which way the market is going. However, demand for EVs will come from consumers and can’t be artificially created by Government policy. If buyers areskeptical about something then they’re simply less likely to buy it, which is where the Government should focus its efforts.

This gets to the heart of conservative environmentalism, providing conservative answers to green issues. Brexit offers new opportunities for increased environmental protections, yet these new regulations must work with green consumers and utilise their sense of personal responsibility over their purchases.

The Great British Consumer significantly underestimates their influence on businesses, and how much change their buying power can influence. Unilever published a report in 2017 showing that a third of consumers internationally are now choosing to ‘buy from brands they believe are doing social or environmental good’. They estimate there is a market worth €966 billion (£865 billion) for brands with clear sustainability credentials. So it’s no surprise that Unilever recently launched its first personal care brand in 20 years, targeting the green consumer with recyclable packaging and vegan ingredients.

Just as voters can influence their politicians, consumers can influence businesses to change their practices. Blue Planet 2 was the most watched show of 2017, influencing many of us to reduce our plastic use after we saw the impact it was having on our oceans. According to a survey commissioned by channelmum.com, 64 per cent said they were using reusable water bottles, and nearly all (98 per cent) said they were likely to buy a brand that was cutting down on plastic. It’s even led to the revival of the milkman in some parts of the country as consumers go for refillable glass bottles instead of the plastic alternatives, and many big brands are following their reusable example.

While some on the Left caricature big businesses as resource-gobbling polluters, there are an increasing number of businesses innovating and voluntarily holding themselves to high environmental standards. For instance, Unilever’s new brand will be subject to an internal carbon tax to support programmes to reduce emissions and landfill waste.

There is, of course, something to be said for the affordability of these green products. The same survey referenced above found that only 17 per cent could afford the non-plastic alternatives if they were more expensive, but there are some sectors where eco-businesses can be cheaper than non-green alternatives. Some renewable electricity providers (Octopus/Bulb) are now cheaper than the Big 6. This is in part due to the reducing costs of renewables, but also because they have broad consumer support helping them to drive down prices.

It is not blasphemy for conservatives – indeed it is common sense – to say that that all markets need some regulation to work properly. In some circumstances where there is a clear need for them the Government should still step in. Yet in most cases the Government should simply nudge consumers to exercise their power to make purchasing choices that reflect their values, and the markets will react.

The Government can also help consumers to make smart green choices by better informing them of what to look for. Many people now check the energy efficiency standards for buildings before they choose to rent or buy, knowing how it will impact their bills. Information like this doesn’t always come from the Government – Blue Planet was from the BBC – but they can play a role too.

Personal responsibility is at the heart of what it is to be a conservative. We’re all learning to bring reusable coffee cups and bottles with us to reduce our waste, the next steps for the environmentally conscious consumer should be checking the sustainability credentials of their day-to-day purchases. The Government can therefore create the ‘right rules and regulations’ to complement the consumer’s choices, with both working in tandem.

Instead of assuming that the Government should always ban something, consumers should take responsibility for their purchases where they can afford to do so. For those on the centre right, regulations and taxes aren’t inherently bad, but consumers have to do their part too. After all, if there is no one to buy it, then there is no point in selling it, and this is where the green conservatives can find their balance.

Published in Conservative Home