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Insulation alone won’t protect parties from reality of energy efficiency issue

Reading the manifestos of all the major political parties, you could be forgiven for thinking that insulation is the sole means of resolving the UK’s energy efficiency crisis. This could not be further from the truth, and our prospective policymakers – whether Conservative, Labour, Lib Dem or the Greens – should turn their heads towards also the low-cost, high-impact improvements that can quickly benefit homes and businesses.

Voters want to know that next winter won’t exacerbate the cost-of-living crisis as soon as they turn on their heating, and policymakers should pay close attention to these concerns. Relying on insulation alone isn’t the recipe for success on energy efficiency, and give the needed support for the cost of living crisis in the short term.

The problem

UK homes and businesses are haemorrhaging money and emissions because our buildings simply aren’t sufficiently energy efficient. According to research from Grundfos and the Centre for Economic and Business Research, every year that we delay dealing with this issue costs us another £3.1 billion.

Further research released by Grundfos, this time with former Downing Street pollsters at J.L. Partners, has found that political parties’ positions on this issue will drive voter behaviour on 4 July. Six in ten voters in marginal constituencies (61%) would be more inclined to vote for a party that provided cost-effective solutions to the problem.

Moreover, this research found that “switch voters” – those who voted Conservative in 2019 but plan to vote Labour next month – feel particularly strongly about this situation. Among this group, eight in ten (78%) would vote for the party that best prioritises energy efficiency.

Against this backdrop, virtually all the manifestos launched last week missed the opportunity to take ownership of the issue, and its solutions. This is a shame, as the consequences could have been a boon for homes and businesses.

The solution(s)

There are more than one. Indeed, only an all-encompassing approach will alleviate the issue of our inefficient buildings, which means focusing on far more than just insulation.

That said, successful solutions needn’t break the balance sheet. Our future government could extend existing boiler schemes to include easily implementable upgrades such as new circulators, radiator thermostats, and hydraulic balancing.

Successful solutions needn’t break the balance sheet. Quote

Investing in a new circulator pump – the gadget that moves hot water around a building – could help lower energy bills by as much as £110 a year. This means that each new circulator effectively pays for itself within two years, and that is without financial support, which is currently missing.

Despite this, research has shown that around half of voters are unsure about the potential for circulator pumps to lower their energy bills. Instead, they fall back on more conventional but costlier measures such as new insulation, which can cost tens of thousands of pounds at a time when many people’s cost-of-living remains eye-wateringly high.

Another more cost-effective solution to which policymakers should point people to is the installation of radiator thermostats that can help occupants manage a building’s heating more efficiently. These controlling devices ensure that radiators receive the right amount of hot water automatically, heating rooms as required without wasting energy.

Moreover, adjusting the temperature of a boiler down to 50-70 Celsius can slash energy use by almost 10% without compromising on comfort. Many boilers are simply set unnecessarily high, so moderating heating systems in this way will help people unlock easy savings.

Similarly, most people miss out on the potential savings that hydraulic balancing can deliver, with only 10% of heating systems in Britain’s buildings properly balanced. Hydraulic balancing – the process of adjusting a heating system to ensure hot water is distributed to radiators in the most efficient manner – can save up to £129 each year.

Sadly, much of this was missing from the parties’ manifestos, which is a missed opportunity for them all. Insulation isn’t the only answer but by factoring these measures into policymaking, politicians can show voters how they intend to address the root of the issue.

The election…

Energy efficiency will remain an intractable issue for whoever wins the next election unless policymakers seize the opportunity for savings that lie beyond insulation. A comprehensive plan for optimising the UK’s heating systems before the upcoming heating season is therefore a necessity for whomever will be in power after the election.

Glynn williams grundfos

Glynn Williams is the UK Managing Director of Grundfos.

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