Energy efficiency

The single most significant step we can take in the UK to reduce carbon emission is to make Britain truly energy efficient. With the right policies at national and local levels, we can deploy existing solutions on a scale large enough to bring about real changes.


Perhaps the only problem is deciding where to start. From badly insulated buildings to poorly designed appliances and gas guzzling vehicles, the UK needlessly throws away almost a third of the energy it uses. This is costing us all dearly – damaging the climate and hitting our pockets.

Implementing energy efficiency measures across the whole country – in energy generation and transmission and consumption, in industry and transport – would cut carbon emissions, create thousands of jobs and save more money than it costs. It’s a no brainer.

We’re working to bring about the government action and industry cooperation need to make these changes.

An efficient electricity system

Our existing energy system is criminally wasteful. Only about a third of the fuel we burn actually gets used – the rest is wasted. That’s because we generate electricity using a centralised system with a relatively small number of large plants sited far away from where the power is actually needed.

So potentially useful heat (a by-product of electricity generation) is thrown away through large cooling towers. And we end up having to burn even more fossil-fuels to heat our homes and workplaces.

There has to be a better way – and there is. It’s called combined heat and power (CHP), and it could cut the amount of energy we burn in half. Visit our virtual town, Efficiencity, to see it in action.

Efficient appliances

Using electricity more efficiently is vital because, for the moment, at least a third of our supply comes from dirty coal power stations, pumping out thousand of tonnes of CO2 and other pollutants.
Efficiency means that less energy does more work.

We can – and should – all do our bit to reduce our energy consumption, but government regulation to introduce minimum efficiency standards for appliances would outlaw inefficient appliances at a stroke, slashing the UK’s carbon emissions. It’s like the difference between changing people’s light bulbs one house at a time and changing the whole lot at once.

In Japan companies are forced to bring out new products that are more efficient than the older models. We already have efficiency ratings from A to F. Why do we allow anything less than A ratings onto the market?

Consumers already have a right to expect that the products they buy meet certain minimum safety standards. Now we need similar standards for energy efficiency – these are too often neglected by governments, or are far too weak as a result of lobbying by vested interests.

Efficient homes

On the home front, according to the government’s own research, we could cut down the amount of energy we use by at least a third – with no detrimental effects to our lifestyles.

Eighty-three per cent of domestic energy is used for heat. Yet, according to the government’s Energy Saving Trust, the vast majority of our homes are inadequately insulated. As much as a third of heat lost from homes escapes through the walls and another quarter is wasted through the lack of loft insulation.

Properly insulating buildings can often be cheaply and easily remedied – and has an enormous impact. The government needs to invest now to get this work done, thereby creating thousands of desperately needed new jobs and cutting carbon emissions at exactly the right time.

For new buildings, the UK’s insulation standards still fall well behind best practice in other parts of Europe. Pioneering new developments aiming to deliver zero emission homes at close to the cost of a standard, inefficient development should become the benchmarks for all new buildings.

An efficient transport system

An electric vehicle is plugged in to charge. Over three-quarters of the UK’s oil use is for transport. © Kate Davison / Greenpeace.

Transport is responsible for 22 per cent of the UK’s carbon emissions, and Britain’s vehicles are pumping out more greenhouse gases than ever before. We’re campaigning for a zero-emissions transport system – one based on electric vehicles powered by clean energy.

But this is not going to happen overnight. Until it does, we urgently need strong and binding targets – set by the EU – that will force manufacturers to produce much more efficient vehicles.

The EU has committed to reduce CO2 emissions to minimum efficiency standards of 95g per km for a family car by 2020, but is coming under pressure from manufactures to relax this target. We’re campaigning to make sure it does not slip.

The government also needs to tax gas-guzzling vehicles more highly and, above all, to invest in a more widely accessible, affordable and energy efficient public transport system.