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How better insulation can make the most of renewable energy

The issue of how to meet Britain's energy needs has been a hot topic in recent years, with the last coal-fired power stations set to be decommissioned, along with some of the older nuclear plants.  

Finding new sources of power is a hot topic, with controversies over fracking and nuclear power, as well as questions over the cost and viability of renewable energy being controversial. As well as environmental issues, cost is a big concern in an age of rising fuel prices.

It is in this context that home energy efficiency has become an increasingly divisive subject in its own right. One of the most effective ways of cutting energy use - and therefore household and business bills - is to make properties more efficient to heat and power, with insulation being a key factor.

This has been emphasised by the Energy Savings Trust (EST) in a blog on the use of home renewable energy devices. Many people are attracted by the idea that they can use green energy to heat and power their homes, with grants available from the government's  Renewable Heating Initiative (RHI). However, the EST has warned that an "insulation first" approach is vital to avoid squandering the new energy.

In a blog by the trust this week, it said: "The first thing to remember is that every heat-generating system gives you more ‘bang for your buck’ if your home is well insulated before it is installed.

"Your home will need a certain amount of insulation before applying for the RHI. To be eligible for the scheme, you’ll need a recent Energy Performance Certificate (EPC). If the EPC recommends cavity wall insulation or loft insulation, you’ll need to install it first.

It added that an "insulation first" approach should be the priority for a sustainable home, with renewable energy being the "final consideration".

This contribution by the EST may be a very timely one. The idea that renewable energy really could have the capacity to meet the world's energy needs is gaining traction, albeit not in the White House. Indeed, a report out this week from researchers from the Carnegie Institution for Science at Stanford University, California, which was published in the journal proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggested that a large enough offshore windfarm - albeit one as large as India - could indeed produce this much energy.

Despite the developments in renewable technology, however, international bodies have highlighted the lack of insulation in UK homes as a barrier to energy efficiency and the quest for lower emissions. Last month, the World Wide Fund for Nature's 'Getting the House in Order' report said that at the current rate of insulation fitting, Britain will actually find its emissions rising again by 2030, and the UK's emissions goals set out in the Paris climate agreement will not be met for a century.
Another critical report last month came from the UK Energy Research Centre and University of Sussex Centre on Innovation and Energy Demand. It said the energy that could be saved by fitting every UK home with enough insulation would be the equivalent of six times the output of the planned new Hinkley C nuclear power station. 

In this context, it is easy to see why an 'insulation first' approach may be valuable, as it could save large amounts of money spent on developing new energy installations as well as on fuel bills.