ECO: we’re missing the key issue

Announcements by the leading energy suppliers that they are to increase their prices by anything from four to over 10% has sparked further political debate over ECO and the part it may be playing in rising energy costs.

It has been suggested that the price hikes could have been restricted if the energy companies were not forced to subsidise energy efficiency improvements for the poorest households, as part of ECO.

The Energy Company Obligation (ECO) is a legal obligation placed on the ‘big six’ energy companies that requires them to promote improvements in domestic energy efficiency, including reducing emissions and heating costs. The scheme began in January and is due to run until 2015. £1.3billion is to be spent through ECO over the next two years, specifically to help those who are facing fuel poverty.

As both sides continue to debate the issue and ECO undergoes a review, what has struck me is that a key issue is missing from this dialogue – the need for us all to reduce our energy use. It’s a simple fact, there is a shortage of fossil fuel. This means there is only one way for energy prices to go - up.

A recent government-commissioned study into the electricity system, published by the Royal Academy of Engineering, has predicted an increasing risk of power cuts as the capacity margin shrinks. Added to this is the real possibility that several coal and oil-fired power stations will have to close, unless they invest to comply with European regulation on pollution emissions. Four nuclear plants are also scheduled to close by 2019, which will add even more pressure on the crunch in capacity.

So what we really need to be talking about is the bigger picture - that we all need to use less energy. This doesn’t mean going out and spending lots of money by kitting out our homes with super efficient appliances, or intelligent control systems, but by getting back to basics. Turning lights off in rooms we’re not using. Turning equipment off at the socket and not leaving it on standby. Making sure our homes and properties aren’t wasting energy by losing heat.

If you compare how we treat our cars to our homes the decarbonisation of our transport system is happening much quicker than for homes and businesses.

Transportation is making much bigger inroads, with the number of electric vehicles and hybrids being sold in the UK, and people now looking at CO2 ratings of cars from a road tax perspective and miles per gallon ratio. Ten years ago if you’d said BMW would be getting 60miles to the gallon, would people have believed you?

We need to look at the bigger picture all round. Incentives being cut is one thing, but we cannot get away from the fact that energy prices will go up and we need to reduce our energy usage and heat loss. Everyone needs to start taking control over what they use and responsibility for it.

Adrian Pike is CEO and co-founder of Anesco, the UK’s energy efficiency solutions company. Anesco works with local authorities, housing associations, businesses and homeowners looking to reduce their carbon emissions The company has been recognised by the Sunday Times as one of the country’s fastest growing private companies.