Guest blog by Edward Hyams -  the Chairman of the Energy Saving Trust

 

In a recent article, Andrew Warren has again suggested the merger of the Carbon Trust and the Energy Saving Trust.  While this is a perfectly fair issue to raise the real question is how best to accelerate Action on CO2 towards an efficient low carbon society in both the business and the private sectors. Approached from that view point the answer is not necessarily a continuation of the status quo but nor is it a merger.

It is well known that I, like many others, argued against there being two Trusts at the time the Carbon Trust was formed.  However, the successful evolution of both Trusts in the meantime means the scope of both organisations’ activities now stretches well beyond that of encouraging insulation in buildings and promoting the use energy saving equipment.  Furthermore the marketing of information and advice to most businesses (and certainly to medium and large organisations) and to domestic customers is quite different.  Even if one organisation had been formed it would have had, from the outset, separate marketing and support arrangements for industry and for households.

In my experience there is little or no confusion about the separate roles of each body and none that I have found in any well run local authority:  no council tenant expects his home to be attended to in the local education department nor do any authorities that I know of manage their school buildings in their housing departments – and in many parts of the UK they are not even covered by the same tier of local government!

So what is the evolution I am talking about?

In the case of the Carbon Trust it has, for example, important Venture Capital and Private investment activities to stimulate and bring through new low carbon technologies and businesses. These are likely to have, over time, significant employment and technology benefits for UK plc. In furthering UK low carbon interests it also now has offices and activities overseas. The range of activities is significant but forms a coherent whole.

The Energy Saving Trust on the other hand is well down the path of providing a one stop local advice network for citizens to encourage and support saving energy and saving money spanning  waste, water and transport as well as energy saving and domestic renewables. This is very much a citizen centred approach and touches on everything from alleviating fuel poverty to long term lifestyle choices.

The word choice is an important one as all our research over the years tells us – and continues to tell us – that, unsurprisingly, people will not be told what not to use. We still come up against the negative legacy of early well intentioned campaigns such as ‘’switch off now’’ which gave the impression that energy efficiency means giving up something. In my view, other than cutting a significant part of all our energy bills it need not mean giving up on a 21st century lifestyle. However most people need to be convinced that taking any specific action makes sense for them whilst saving them money. Only a small percentage of the population will take action principally in the interests of reducing climate change and very few will do anything if told what to do by ‘experts’. In 2008 we might even call this the ‘John Sergeant effect’! We should not be surprised or alarmed by these realities but we need to work with the facts as they are.

So increasingly, the Energy Saving Trust focuses on being on the side of the citizen providing advice and support on energy efficiency, transport, microgeneration (such as solar heating or heat pumps) and now on waste and water The Trust is operationally independent of both Government and the Energy Companies even though together they are our members and fund most of our activities. Effectively the Trust acts as a vital bridge between these two important actors in the energy space neither of whom, sadly, enjoy the confidence of citizens when it comes to advice on energy efficiency and climate change.
 

So what of the future?

Clearly we still have a long way to go on improving energy efficiency in the UK. So there is plenty of scope for people to enjoy the same levels of comfort and amenity while lowering their energy bills, transport costs and the effects of their household waste and  water usage; no doubt  regulation and progressive taxation can play their part but that does not diminish the need for the advice and support needed by everyone. New priorities will no doubt include an increasing focus on recycling of waste and on renewable heat – probably solar, heat pumps and biomass – which need to rapidly increase in market penetration if we are to stand a chance of meeting our 2020 CO2 targets.

The Energy Saving Trust as a citizen focussed body needs to play a pivotal role in developing the market and providing assurance on products and installers as we do not have time for false starts or the reputational setbacks from shoddy products or installations.

With the challenges around us in late 2008 I am also of the view that doing more should not necessarily need more and more public money, While the core funding is vital to address market failures this can and should be accompanied by many activities such as joint marketing with reputable services and products, fee-based quality assurance of more products as ‘’Energy Saving Recommended’’ and, in the future, installer approval. All of these can be part or wholly privately funded. The unique independent limited company status of the Energy Saving Trust will allow us to grow these income streams while retaining objectivity in interests of reducing people’s bills. We know how to continue to work very closely with government and at the same time retain the objective independence which we believe is so important.

Having argued once for there not being two Trusts I am now convinced of  the need for a focussed citizen centred approach as the best way of accelerating energy saving and resource efficiency in the domestic sector.

Still not convinced about the benefits of two?  Well one final thought. I have argued in effect that individuals by and large take action through enlightened self interest, and there is not much wrong with that approach. It means the advice and information we provide must be independent and trustworthy.

I also stressed the successful pioneering role that the Carbon Trust takes in developing and profiting from new technologies. Again, nothing wrong with that but should that be the same organisation which seeks to advise citizens which of those technologies to use in their homes? I think not.