Energy saving needs careful thought

It is the way of life that everything seemingly has a consequence. If you become ill there is often a treatment, but there will almost always be a side-effect. Sir Isaac Newton came up with pretty robust laws for the physical world, perhaps the best known of which is: “To every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction“.

These inevitable, often unintended, results of setting something in motion seem to catch out our politicians more than anyone else. And it is the burgeoning sector of renewable energy which seems to be on the receiving end of those consequences more than any other part of UK Plc – or so it feels at times.

First there were incentives to install renewable energy which, the Government discovered after the fact, were so generous they were unsustainable and being taken advantage of by the often less than scrupulous elements of the trade. Once that was spotted the payments were severely reigned-in. Of course that had consequences for an industry that was growing rapidly, often on the back of the incentives. And so we go round.

The latest lesson in the law of unintended consequences has sprung from that less-than-stellar initiative, the Green Deal. A significant part of this master plan revolves around a huge promotional push to get more people to better insulate their homes (we’ll leave aside for the purposes of this examination the overly-complex and unrewarding financial structures upon which the Green Deal is precariously built). Better insulation sounds all well and good; less lost heat equals lower heating bills and a smaller carbon footprint. We’re all in favour of all of that.

It seems, though, that even in this there is a banana skin… Because, according to academics who know about these things and tend to look at facts, rather than dealing with a topic through the prism of expediency, you can *over-insulate* a home. This is a particularly bad thing in times when the the climate (because of what we’ve already done to the planet) is becoming more extreme and unpredictable. Suddenly, the older people we were trying to prevent from freezing to death are apparently going to be boiled in their own armchairs. No-one, it seems, had thought of this before.

Because we’re not a tabloid newspaper, we’re not going to try to convince you that this horrendous fate is inevitably going to befall anyone who took up the Green Deal. Besides, it should be easy to send someone round to check on the four of them (yes, you read that right)… The reality for most people nearly always lies in between the extremes, but this is an object lesson in thinking around the subject.

Renewable energy technology is not a panacea, but properly and suitably planned, it will deliver massive benefits to society, gradually bringing down our reliance on fossil fuels and shifting the power to charge through the nose away from the behemoth companies which control those power sources. The problems usually arise when the planning of resources is done with a view to getting re-elected.

It really doesn’t take a genius to realise that if you have a really good method of trapping heat in a house it will get hot. Even Sir Isaac Newton could have told us that, around 300 years ago.


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