16 March 2010: US weatherization work

The US government seems to be serious about improving energy efficiency in existing buildings, which the Americans call weatherization.  This month, the  Department of Energy has announced a Sustainable Energy Resources for Consumers programme. This will offer grants totalling up to $109 million to:

… speed delivery of weatherization assistance services, promote increased leveraging of federal funding with other funding sources, and identify and develop sustainable energy funding models that are not currently deployed by the Weatherization Assistance Program network.

(See the Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy newsletter, available from Department of Energy at: eere@service.govdelivery.com.)

The American Recovery Act has provided money for states and local service providers, including energy companies – many of which in the US are municipally-owned – to speed up energy efficiency work, create jobs and reduce fuel poverty. More than 900 local service providers are now involved.

The Weatherization Assistance Program focuses on low-income families. Many of those who receive assistance are senior citizens, single parents or disabled. 49% of households receiving weatherization services have one or more family members who have disabilities or are elderly and with special needs. 90% of weatherization clients have incomes less than $15,000 and two-thirds earn less than $8,000 a year.

In the UK, energy efficiency programmes have in the past often not been targeted on low-income households. This is despite the fact that both energy efficiency and renewables programmes have been funded by energy companies, which results in increased tariffs to consumers. Six million UK households live in fuel poverty – up 300% since 2003.

The UK government has at least recognised the problem. It has published, also this month, Warm Homes, Greener Homes: a Strategy for Household Energy Management. This will oblige energy companies to give vulnerable households free upgrades to their properties. It will also set up Pay-as-You-Save schemes, under which people can borrow money to invest in energy efficiency and then pay back less each month than the reduction in fuel bills. And the loan will be attached to the property, so that the prospect of moving house before the loan is repaid will not be a reason for people to improve their building.

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