With the UK’s energy price cap set to rise dramatically in April, many households will start to feel the bite of high gas and electricity bills.
War in Ukraine has sparked debate about diversifying the UK’s energy sources as one way of keeping prices down. But this debate should not distract us from the urgent need to reduce the amount of energy we currently use.
An effective way to do that is to target the main culprits of energy loss. And one of the biggest is the UK’s old, draughty and cold housing stock.
Politicians, both national and local, should prioritise upgrading the UK’s homes. Retrofitting them will kick start a much-needed green recovery and can also cut household bills and take us closer to our net-zero targets.
Doing this on a national scale may sound daunting, but there are 3.9 million social homes in the UK, often clustered in blocks that can be upgraded or renovated relatively quickly and cheaply. So the potential for radical impact is huge.
Councils will play leading role in this challenge, and Ashden is helped local authorities in the UK to power up domestic retrofit plans. At a time when council budgets are extremely stretched – this is a good use of public money, as it reduces fuel poverty, improves public health, and creates opportunities for local businesses.
For example, innovative technology from Ashden Award winner Guru Systems has proven that spotting and fixing heating flaws can reduce social housing tenants’ heating bills by up to 50%. In a large housing block, just a few open valves can cause the whole heat network’s performance to worsen dramatically. Taking action – by retrofitting, or maintenance that prioritises energy efficiency – creates big carbon and cost savings.
Skills shortage threatens home upgrades
However, while there is growing demand for us to roll out retrofit solutions like this, the UK does not have enough trained people to carry out this work. Demand for people with these prized green skills is outstripping supply. This was starkly demonstrated in a recent UK report on green skills by LinkedIn.
It said “The number of green jobs is rising, although there is a mismatch between supply and demand with jobs requiring green skills growing at 8%, whilst green talent has grown at 6%.”
We agree with LinkedIn that this should be a significant concern for policy makers, as green jobs are the catalyst for real world change – driving new innovation, opportunities and the just transition.
Failure to boost skills would see us miss out on a green recovery, miss net zero targets – and also see energy bills continue to rise.
LinkedIn rightly point out that governments, companies, and individuals all need to come together to help transition the hiring market from focusing solely on titles and companies, degrees and schools, to also focusing on skills and abilities.
Skills providers must be better connected with businesses to ensure future skills reflect economic need and the skills gap can be closed.
Ashden award winners working in this area include pioneers like Manchester’s Carbon Co-op who have trained up hundreds of builders, while Scotland’s Warmworks have created Warmstart, which aims to create a robust workforce that attracts and retains young people, ensuring a sustainable pipeline of young, diverse talent. Warmworks have a five-year contract with the Scottish Government to tackle fuel poverty and upskill young people right across the country – showing the power of long-term skills thinking and a holistic systems approach.
The power of councils
These innovative skills and training providers are tackling the skills deficit issues – and could do even more in collaboration with local authorities. Local authorities are great conduits for this type of innovation.
Councils are well connected and have the trust of residents, which makes them a great partner for businesses and others. Partnerships focusing on skills with colleges and training providers, as well as local enterprises, can also build capacity for an area-based approach that brings success at scale.
The energy price cap rise means it is vital that councils analyse their housing stock now, train staff in relevant roles (such as retrofit co-ordinator), and to start procurement teams thinking about how council projects can boost relevant skills in their area. These skills can then be used to retrofit local homes and other buildings.
However, even the best local initiatives need national support. That’s why Ashden has joined a coalition of local government organisations, NGOs and research institutions to publish a blueprint for accelerating climate action at the local level.
If we don’t tackle the green skills crisis now, energy bills will continue to soar, and we will not meet our net zero targets.