Here’s how to keep Britons warm this winter

Blue and orange flames from a gas cooker

A gas cooker is seen in Boroughbridge, northern England in this November 13, 2012 file photograph. Centrica posted a 9 percent rise in profit at its British Gas business, the country's biggest household energy supplier announced on February 27, 2013, putting pressure on it to justify an inflation-beating rise in prices in the midst of a recession. REUTERS/Nigel Roddis

Prime minister candidates to replace Boris Johnson must act now to avoid catastrophe later.

Harriet Lamb is CEO with climate solutions charity Ashden, which works with low carbon innovators in the UK and around the world and is part of the Warm This Winter coalition.

Can clean energy solve the UK’s energy price crisis? Only if we build the right workforce for the job. And if, as well as powering up renewables, we also power down our use of energy.

Everyone is biting their nails and talking about the soaring cost of energy – except, it seems those in the Conservative leadership race.

Yet we face a potentially catastrophic winter. In just over two months, energy bills will leap up and a third of households will struggle to heat their home.

Latest predictions put the average annual bill at £3,244 from October, two and a half times more than last autumn. It means that the average state pensioner will haemorrhage over a third of their income on energy bills alone.

Whoever wins, their new government needs to act fast on the energy triple-whammy – easing this cost-of-living crisis, while also delivering energy security, and radically lowering emissions.

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Investing in a clean energy future is the obvious answer to all three problems, with action needed now to build capacity in renewables and make our daily activities – particularly heating our homes – more energy efficient.

We will need to equip our workforce to carry out these transformations, but the rewards are worth it – including creating new jobs.

It makes economic sense to accelerate the shift to renewables as their pricetag is one of the few which is plummeting. In fact, renewables are now the cheapest source of power. The cost of solar energy, globally, fell last year by more than 15% in a single year, while onshore wind dropped by 13%.

Renewables are also the quickest to install and bring much needed local benefit. Oxfordshire’s pioneering Low Carbon Hub delivered nearly 50 income-generating installations to schools and village halls, housing blocks and bus depots last year alone.

Progress is being hampered, however, by among other things the government’s lack of focus on skilling the workforce to deliver this shift. Currently, only 10 UK further education colleges offer courses in renewables.

Indeed, the government’s Net Zero Strategy, which promises to support 440,000 jobs in renewables and other areas by 2030, was criticised by MPs for a lack of detail. We need that detail now.

Also key to solving our energy security is slashing the amount of energy we use. Every kilowatt saved means lower bills, lower emissions, and less reliance on energy from abroad.

UK homes are cold and draughty: one in every four pounds spent on heating is wasted, and too many children live in damp homes. 19 million properties need an efficiency upgrade – or ‘retrofit’ – by 2030.

Fixing these buildings will reward us with warmer homes which use less energy, and so can help residents escape fuel poverty and improve their health.

Disjointed policies and stop-start incentive schemes have hampered progress, as has the lack of qualified workers to make homes airtight and insulated, and to install modern, efficient heating systems.

We only have 2% of the retrofit coordinators needed, and just 3,000 accredited heat pump installers.

Brilliant initiatives are showing the way forward. Greater Manchester’s Low Carbon Academy, for example, a partnership between retrofit experts and local colleges, has trained over 2,000 contractors in the latest techniques.

And Stockport’s B4Box provides practical training, including for women, unemployed people and ethnic minorities, that brings neglected homes back into use.

Local authorities hold the key to upgrading our homes. Ashden’s new retrofit briefing shows how trailblazers are leading the way – from using legislation to push Liverpool’s landlords into improving homes, to implementing ground-breaking whole house refurbishment on social housing.

Councils need more resources and powers from government. Then they can, with local communities, help create tangible change in every town, village and city.

Ashden has joined a coalition, Warm This Winter, asking both candidates in the race to become the next Prime Minister to set out how they will address the cost-of-living crisis driven by soaring energy bills.

In an open letter last week, we called on them to use these next precious few weeks to set out practical measures for how they will help people now, and how they will ensure we have lower energy bills in the future.

The next UK Prime Minister needs to have credible, practical ideas for solving the crisis and has to be prepared to hit the ground running with them.

Both of the candidates for PM urgently need to ask themselves: “What is my plan to permanently lower energy bills?” The solutions, we know, are out there.

Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Context or the Thomson Reuters Foundation.


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