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Government reveals new housing energy targets in Clean Growth strategy

The government's long-awaited Clean Growth Strategy has been revealed, with energy minister Claire Perry explaining how home energy efficiency can play an important part in reducing the UK's emissions.

While the overall strategy focuses on a range of areas, from transport and industry to how energy is generated, homes have an important role to play, as they account for 13 per cent of emissions. This rises to 22 per cent if the electricity they use is taken into account.

The document notes that considerable progress has been made so far in increasing home energy efficiency through measures such as the Energy Company Obligation, which has led to home energy providers installing insulation and new boilers in millions of homes. Since 1990, the number of homes in the UK has risen by about a quarter, but the total volume of emissions has dropped by a fifth.

However, more needs to be done for the government to meet its own statutory targets, and Ms Perry listed a number of the measures that are being introduced.

She said: "We will make it easier for homeowners to make home improvements that can reduce their energy use.

"We will invest around £3.6 billion to upgrade around a million homes through the Energy Company Obligation by 2020, and extend that support to 2028."

In addition, the Renewable Heat Incentive will be maintained, with the government working towards an "aspiration" of making every home in Britain at least an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) band C-rated property by 2035. The document sets an earlier target of 2030 for households in fuel poverty.  

A key issue will be how exactly this can be achieved. Ms Perry pledged the use of incentives to do this and in an interview with the BBC Radio 4 Today Programme Earlier this week she expressed an interest in a "carrots and sticks" approach such as using variable stamp duty rates to reward property owners who make their homes more energy efficient and punish those who neglect them. 

The document did not specify the use of stamp duty or any particular incentive - this idea came from a recent paper published by the Frontier Economics thinktank - but it did say the government would be consulting on this. Another idea on which it is calling for evidence and industry submissions is the idea of 'green mortgages', which would be backed by the government and include incentives for householders to make homes more energy-efficient. 

Finding the right kinds of incentive and getting the regime right will be critical. The Green Deal was a high-profile failure, so the details of the eventual package will be particularly important. 

Private housing and the incentivisation of property owners is not the only area covered by the policy document. Further study will also be carried out on how to bring social housing up to the EPC C rating, in line with a wider review of the various issues pertaining to this sector.

Another broader area of interest and concern is building standards and fire safety, with a review set to be carried out by Dame Judith Hackett. Clearly, a home that is built poorly and is therefore draughty will be less energy-efficient than it should be even with all the best insulation.

Finally, insulation itself will be the focus of new government-backed investment in innovation, with a £10 million fund to support new developments in materials and installation methods. This kind of research has been taking place around the world already, but it is hoped the extra cash will help to accelerate developments.