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Insulation simple solution to slash energy bills, as government considers more coal

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Insulation installed in the last decade will save Britons nearly £1.2bn a year, analysis suggests, amid calls for more energy-saving efforts as prices soar. Meanwhile, the UK Government is mulling a return to using more coal, despite COP26 promises to phase it out and reduce the UK’s reliance on the dirty fossil fuel.

An Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) assessment has found that six million homes had been upgraded to energy performance certificate band C from 2009 to 2019 courtesy of relatively simple home-improvement measures such as loft and cavity wall insulation.

Upgrading a home from band D to band C cuts gas demand by 20 per cent per home, saving each one around £194 per year from April 2022 – and potentially even more if energy bills climb further, as is expected in the face of ballooning gas prices due to reduced supply, increased demand and Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

The energy efficiency measures installed in the decade to 2019 will save bill-payers an estimated £1.15bn this year, the organisation said.

As debate rages on how to tackle surging energy bills, green campaigners and anti-fuel poverty charities have called on the government to increase efforts to improve the energy efficiency of the UK’s draughty, heat-leaking homes to cut fuel demand and costs for households.

The Conservatives have also come in for criticism for cutting back on green schemes such as the energy company obligation (ECO) under the coalition government in 2013, with a significant drop in insulation rates since then.

Jess Ralston, analyst at the ECIU, said: “Insulation schemes like ECO work. They cut the energy being wasted from leaky roofs and walls, cut the amount of gas we need to keep warm and so bring down bills, and they do all that permanently.

“Why are we not talking about this more? If we want to increase security of supply and reduce bills at the same time, the only answer is to use less gas. That means insulation. It’s really not that hard to grasp.”

Last week, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) said that the Government has not invested enough money in tackling energy efficiency in UK homes and buildings ahead of targets to reach net zero by 2050.

Meanwhile, Government officials are reportedly talking to EDF, the French energy giant, to see if it can keep the West Burton A coal-fired power plant in Nottinghamshire going.

It is due to be shuttered by September this year to help the UK reach its target of not burning any coal for electricity by next October. The deadline was set as part of the UK’s plans to reach net zero by the middle of the century.

The UK has slowly cut back its reliance on coal, switching to renewables and gas, which emit much less carbon. However, gas has become problematic in recent months. Once an affordable fuel, prices have spiked as much as 20-fold compared to two years ago. Russia supplies a massive proportion of the gas burned in Europe.

The UK sources a lot less of its gas from Russia, but pays the same prices as those in Europe so has still been impacted by the war in Ukraine. The government is looking for alternatives to gas that can help the continent reduce its reliance on Russian imports.

Experts say renewables are the best option, but coal also looks more attractive than in the past. The Times first reported that the government had put out feelers to see if it would be possible for EDF to keep the site running.

Two of four units at the West Burton A power station have already been shut down by the energy giant, which has started reducing staff ahead of the planned closure this year.

“Half of West Burton A power station has been available to supply electricity during peak times over the winter; the other half commenced decommissioning last summer,” EDF said.

“The plan is to start decommissioning the final two units at the start of October 2022 and many processes have already been put in place to achieve that, including reducing the site’s staffing numbers and running down the coal stock”.

A government spokesperson said: “The UK remains committed to ending the use of coal power by 2024. We will be setting out plans to boost our long-term energy resilience and domestic supply shortly.

“The operation of UK coal plants is ultimately a commercial matter and we have made no formal request to EDF.”

The phasing out of coal - while broadly agreed by many countries as being critical to permanently lower carbon emissions - has proved problematic. A revised draft of the COP26 deal weakened the language around the phasing out of fossil fuels, including coal.

Commercial banks have also provided over $1.5tr (£1.1tr) in lending to the global coal industry over the past three years, even though many of them have pledged to become net zero organisations.

Meanwhile, China has continued to invest in coal-based power plants and steel facilities at “alarming rates” that are antithetical to climate change goals, research from the Helsinki-based Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA) revealed in February this year.

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