Why home energy improvements are a natural fit for conservative values
This post is by Sam Hall, senior researcher at Bright Blue and author of Green conservatives? Understanding what conservatives think about the environment
From the great housebuilding programme of Harold MacMillan in the 1950s to Anthony Eden’s and Margaret Thatcher’s championing of a property owning democracy, conservatives intuitively value the home. It embodies and animates central conservative ideas of personal responsibility, family and aspiration.
Home energy improvements should be a natural fit for this vision. After all, they are a renovation that adds value to a property, increases its comfort levels and reduces its running costs. And attractive and innovative consumer products like solar photovoltaics, smart meters and battery storage enable households to take responsibility for their home’s energy and environmental impact.
The poor quality of much of the UK’s housing stock is a major obstacle to meeting our carbon targets. To fulfil the Climate Change Act’s goal of reducing emissions by 80 per cent by 2050, relative to a 1990 baseline, many homes must be improved. This will mean taking measures like insulating lofts and walls, fitting double glazing and installing decentralised renewables like air source heat pumps for heating and solar panels for power.
After the summer recess, the government will publish its Clean Growth Plan, setting out how it will meet the fourth and fifth carbon budgets, which mandate a 57 per cent reduction in emissions by 2030. Home energy improvements should be at its heart. Heating and powering our homes produces 22 per cent of the UK’s overall greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Committee on Climate Change. Yet, following a number of policy changes, progress in reducing emissions from these sources has stalled.
What Conservative voters think
Home energy upgrades of the necessary scale will only be possible if there is sufficient public interest and strong support for the associated policies, particularly among Conservative voters. That’s why Bright Blue recently conducted a poll of Conservatives’ attitudes to the environment, in which we tested the awareness, interest and popularity of policies to incentivise home energy improvements, as well as the barriers.
We found that traditional energy efficiency measures were the most commonly installed improvement. For those Conservatives that have heard of them, 91 per cent have installed double glazing, 83 per cent have installed loft insulation and 65 per cent have installed wall insulation.
But, while there is strong interest among Conservatives in other improvements, it has not really translated into installations: 53 per cent that have heard of smart meters are interested in installing them, but have not done so yet; and the results were 41 per cent for solar panels; and 26 per cent for battery storage and air source heat pumps.
Barriers to uptake and how to overcome them
Our polling found that the main barrier preventing Conservatives from installing these measures is, by far, high upfront cost. A lack of information about the different options and incompatibility with their current property are also commonly cited barriers to greater uptake.
Two Bright Blue policy proposals from our 2016 report Better homes seek to overcome these barriers. And our polling showed they are popular among Conservatives: 66 per cent support the introduction of a new government backed loan to fund the upfront cost of home energy improvement measures, paid back through energy bills; and 79 per cent support a new national information service for the public to explain the different home energy technologies available and to provide a list of local tradespeople equipped to install them.
But stronger fiscal incentives and greater information alone cannot provide the necessary consumer demand for home energy improvements. Some targeted regulations are needed. These should be aimed at ‘trigger points’ when, consumer research tells us, households are more likely to consider home energy improvements, such as when people move home or carry out general home renovations.
Perhaps surprisingly, some new regulations were among the most popular policies we tested in our polling: 70 per cent of Conservatives support a new rule that all homes being sold must first meet a minimum energy performance rating, with some exemptions, such as for listed buildings or fuel poor households; and 80 per cent support new building regulations to ensure people having large home renovations also include measures to improve energy efficiency.
Energy improvements should be the focus of the next stage of conservative housing policies, not only to deliver on important climate policy objectives, but also to help people improve the value, comfort and affordability of their homes.