Karen Fletcher looks back to the 1960's to show how an energy revolution can happen, if the will is there.

In his recent blog for The Hub, architect George Clarke pulls no punches in his criticism of the government’s slow approach to improving our existing housing stock. He refers to government as all talk and no action – ATNA.

I was going to write my blog this month on the topic of the Future Homes consultation. But having read Mr Clarke’s piece, I agreed with his point of view.

Another consultation? It seems that we’re awash with them in the construction industry.

And we have less and less time to sit around talking now the climate emergency is here.

We could have this done by 2030

Karen Fletcher Karen Fletcher Head of content for MBS & MBStv

The future is already here

Perhaps the most frustrating thing for those of us in the building services industry is that we’re aware that most of the technology required to make our homes (and other buildings) more energy efficient and lower carbon is already available.

Heat pumps have been used in numerous projects around the country and are operating right now in thousands of homes.

Other useful tools such as mechanical ventilation with heat recovery (MVHR) and building controls (to manage energy use) are also well-known and widely applied.

The answer to the question of how to make our buildings more environmentally sound is already out there.

Revolution

Rather than write more reports on what might be done, government (regardless of political party) should take action.

I suppose in some ways, I’m calling for a revolution. But rather than leaving it to the masses to rise up, this is an opportunity for those in power to make the change.

Again, I’m not really asking for anything new.

In 1965, the UK discovered huge reserves of natural gas under the North Sea. Cue a major energy revolution.

Government produced a Fuel Policy White Paper in 1967. It stated that the country should switch away from coal gas to this North Sea fuel quickly “to enable to country to benefit as soon as possible from the advantages of this indigenous energy source.” Sound familiar?

Just getting on with it

And that switch wasn’t easy or cheap. The UK built a gas distribution grid (to replace the local town gas supplies) of over 3,000 miles.

All gas equipment was converted to burn natural gas – yes, that’s every gas cooker or boiler in domestic and commercial properties: 13 million domestic customers and 400,000 commercial customers. It cost £100 million and took ten years from 1967 to 1977.  

It’s a jaw-dropping project when you consider the sheer scale of what was achieved. But you have to hand it to government – they didn’t sit around writing reports and consultations; they got on with the job.

And although fossil fuels are no longer regarded in the same light, it was a necessary switch for the country away from the even more environmentally damaging coal gas.

No reason not to start – now

The fact is, we need another energy revolution – now.

The new ‘indigenous’ energy sources are wind, solar and other renewables, making our electricity itself more sustainable.

We shouldn’t shrink away from the project of switching households from gas heating to electric or from improving the housing stock along the way.

The great gas switch of the 1960s uncovered many dangerous appliances, leading to vast improvements in health and safety.

Doubtless we’ll uncover other issues such as poor insulation standards when we move to more sustainable energy sources – but that’s no reason not to start.

Based on our previous record of ten years, if we start in January 2020, we could have this done by 2030.

Too revolutionary?

Karen Fletcher, Head of Content for MBS and MBStv