Decarbonisation and the Command Economy

From The GWPF

  • Date: 08/05/19
  • Professor Michael Kelly, University of Cambridge

The costs of retrofitting exiting domestic buildings to improve energy efficiency and reduce CO2 emissions, compared with the savings on energy bills, represent a wholly unsatisfactory return on investment from a family perspective.  A command economy would be required to make any serious inroads on the challenge as proposed by the Committee on Climate Change.

In its recent (February 2019) report, ‘UK Housing: Fit for the Future?’, the 29 million existing homes must be made low-carbon, low-energy and resilient to climate change.   This note is an abbreviated update of a study[1] I prepared subsequent to a three-year appointment as Chief Scientific Adviser to the Department for Communities and Local Government during 2006–9.   I also delivered an ‘amateur’ prospectus to the Council, University, Business and Entrepreneurial sectors of the City of Cambridge, with an estimated bill of £0.7–1 billion to retrofit the 49,000 houses and 5500 other buildings within the city boundaries to halve the net CO2 emissions.

On the basis of a presentation I made to the then Science Minister, Lord Drayson, in 2008, the Government launched a pilot ‘Retrofit for the Future’ programme, with £150,000 devoted to over 100 houses in the housing association sector.  This programme, and its outcomes[2], did not rate a mention in the recent CCC report. However, I have visited one of these, and seen a 60% (the target was 80%) reduction in CO2 emissions after the retrofit: full wall insulation, underfloor insulation, use of the newest appliances etc.  At this rate of spend, the 29 million existing homes across the UK would cost £4.3 trillion to retrofit.   If the typical energy bill of £2000 per year were to be halved, the saving would be £29 billion per year and the payback time would be 150 years!  Who would lend/invest on that basis?

In fact, the £150,000 limit was set to ensure that the end target of 80% CO2 emissions could be met[3], on the understanding that economies of scale and learning by doing would reduce the cost per household by at most 3–5-fold.  However, how much reduction in cost is required before private individuals would invest in improving the energy efficiency of their home?  This would be limited by the conditions set by lenders, and they want a payback of 3-4 years on most investments, stretching to say 7-8 years on infrastructure investments in the home.  The implied ceiling of lending of £10,000 per house goes nowhere on energy efficiency measures and would not give a 50%, let alone 80%, energy reduction.

Only if there is a Government direction to spend this scale of money on this issue will any significant inroads be made in energy reductions in existing houses. No political party would commit to this level of spend on a national retrofit programme until the need is pressing and urgent, not on a distant horizon.  There is no ducking or diving from this conclusion.

The progress since the 2010 CCC report on housing[4] is nugatory, and a third report will be rewritten again in 10 years, with similar pleas.

Read the full article here

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46 thoughts on “Decarbonisation and the Command Economy

  1. The idea of retrofitting insulation is notoriously counterproductive, giving way for so many other serious issues like humid walls, bad air, asthma, etc.
    At many mid latitude countries like Netherlands, England and Germany, some smart people are having modular houses sent from Sweden and Norway, where they have tradition for building safe well insulated houses.
    Having lived nearly 10 years in Scotland, I have seen the suffering from really badly insulated houses, both new and old.
    The British enforcement of insulation is bound to end in disaster and terrible economical loss as Professor Michael Kelly mention (150 years return on investment!), without reducing the contribution of greening plant food (CO₂). If the Brits want to contribute less CO₂, then why don’t they expand their nuclear power plants, it would be the social right thing to do.

    • Carl

      I made your points elsewhere recently.

      The obsession with sealing up houses to save energy is an unattainable myth. Much of UK housing stock is Victorian, or older, houses of solid masonry wall construction.

      In the 1970’s many were sealed up with double glazing and central heating installed which simply caused unhealthy dampness because there was no air circulation the Victorians achieved with coal burning fires and draughty windows and doors that ensured healthy circulation.

      More modern houses were built using cavity wall construction thereby creating an air gap between the external and internal walls. The houses were similarly sealed up with DG and CH installed, and people were surprised when damp problems continued.

      So they filled the cavity walls with injected foam, still dampness.

      Then came timber framed buildings with fibreglass insulation, still dampness.

      Now they are building them with SIP (Structurally Insulated Panels) where a house can be sealed well enough to have them vacuum tested for air tightness, still dampness.

      What they haven’t considered over all that time is that the solution to dampness is air circulation and exchange.

      At a very modest estimate, and considering that British Gas will charge, typically, around £5,000 for a replacement gas boiler, a retrofit of whole house mechanical air circulation would, at the very least, cost around £10,000. We can add that cost to that of insulation, not that either are practical or possible in most houses in the UK.

      Our government is keen to blithely promote PR soundbites about ‘solutions’ appealing to the gullible climate fanatic, but in this case it does not take a genius to figure out that the whole concept is impossible.

      • <blockqouteNo political party would commit to this level of spend on a national retrofit programme until the need is pressing and urgent, not on a distant horizon.
        Or you suffer from the mental disrder of Socialist Liberalism

    • Interesting! I live in Western Canada where -30C and colder is not too unusual in winter. We build our houses accordingly. The new standards include R-40 walls, High-E furnaces and very strict vapour barrier installation ( sealed house). This necessitates air to air heat exchangers to provide ventilation air. As it happens I am a journeyman HVAC and refrigeration tech and I have long thought that the standards exceed what makes sense financially. I suspect that air to air heat exchangers would not work so well in humid climates like the UK while you certainly don’t need R-40 walls.
      The effect of these standards is to drive up the cost of housing for little to no benefit. Many young people are unable to get into the market due to housing prices. A typical outcome for government interference in the market. A separate standard should be introduced for lower income or starter homes. This could include a smaller lot and square footage home along with building standards that minimize operating costs so people can build some equity in their first home while living in a decent standard. Buy the bells and whistles later in life instead of giving money to the banks in interest.

      • HotScot & Harmsworth

        Having been involved in the engineering and construction of residential construction since the 80s and have experience with all designs, i.e., cavity construction with various forms of insulation, log walls, post & beam, structural insulated panels (SIPS), and EPS (Styrofoam) forms that stay in place after pumped concrete fills the forms resulting in reinforced R-40 walls. My current home is a hybrid incorporating all but log walls but I lived in a 3600 sq.ft. 4 X 8 double tongue & groove western red cedar log house for over 20 years.

        That log home which was post & beam was conditioned with a well source geothermal HVAC system manufactured by TETCO and installed in 1982. Separate propane-fired fireplace and wood stove provided supplemental heat as the electric resistance coil in the air handler. Fortunately a 135 GPM well allowed for free flow discharge to the subsurface. No conservation of H20 required.
        Never had a humidity, mold or fungus issue ever.

        My experience working for HVAC contractors early in my career dictated the use of air handlers with multiple coils and proper humidification across all building types. Properly installed air-to-air exchangers are only used in isolated areas.

        The other consideration is infiltration around doors and windows as well as window glazing/coatings and solar exposure. Architecturally overhangs and throme walls are in some respect important.
        Bensonwood out of New Hampshire as been a leader in new design with manufactured panels for energy efficient panels for housing and as they say:

        Every panel assembly has dense pack cellulose fiber inside for superior insulation. We build with premium wood sheathing for improved air tightness and vapor permeability profiles. All panel designs have hygrothermal evaluations done to confirm the panel’s durability against condensation. Completed envelopes have superior air infiltration and weather sealing because we use industry leading air sealing tapes and gaskets at all joints. A typical Bensonwood building is 56% more energy efficient than one built to current code and 86% more efficient than the average American building.
        Read about them here in http://bensonwood.com

    • You can see how well retrofitting insulation without serious thought went with Grenfell Tower, they followed EU regs that only tested each component individually rather than the British Standard which tests them when used together.
      Also a friend can’t get an certificate for his cottage in Devon because it doesn’t have insulation but it is very well insulated with cob (mud straw) walls and thatched roof, it is cool in summer and warm in winter without too high heating bills but because it doesn’t have “fitted insulation” it doesn’t get the box ticked.

      James Bull

    • The right thing to do is to dump as much CO2 into the atmosphere as we can!

      Isn’t it embarrassing to see how their constant yammering about the destructive influence of CO2 has got us all agreeing to their totally false position on carbon dioxide?

      Think, people, think!! The next steps they demand are carbon taxation followed by forced de-industrialization! Our enemies will be laughing all the way to the bank!!

    • Patrick

      Celebrated, and tortured to death on the BBC’s Radio 2, Jeremy Vine show today.

        • Because he keeps reminding us of the mental state of those we are up against. And every once in a while he is hilarious in his ignorance.

      • And how much difference will it make to worldwide temperatures????
        Zero, Zip, Nadda, Not a sausage and nothing you can detect with a computer model.

        James Bull

  2. I had the same problem with trying to economically justify the purchase of an electric car. Notwithstanding the generous government rebates, the payback period is still too long. It’s too bad, because I hate wasting our precious fossil fuels. In Canada, where gas prices are high and hydro power is abundant, if it doesn’t compute here, it won’t anywhere else.

  3. Re: Decarbonisation and the Command Economy

    “Proposal to spend 25% of EU budget on climate change”

    Eight European countries have called for an ambitious strategy to tackle climate change – and to spend a quarter of the entire EU budget on fighting it.
    The joint statement says the EU should have net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 “at the latest”.
    It was signed by France, Belgium, Denmark, Luxemburg, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, and Sweden.
    The group says their plan can “go hand in hand with prosperity” and “set an example for other countries to follow.”

    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-48198646

    • The CAGW Lie has caused all this insanity. These European nations double-down on bankrupting themselves over this Lie and apparently it never occurs to them to question whether CAGW is real or not.

      They don’t have to be learned climate scientists to figure this out. All they have to do is request that the Learned Climate Scientists provide evidence demonstrating that CO2 is having any effect on Earth’s weather. They will find that those Learned Climate Scientists won’t have an answer for them. That ought to be evidence enough that CAGW is speculation not fact. That should also tell them they don’t need to go off and turn their whole way of doing business upside down on mere speculation.

      There is no evidence that CO2 is causing the Earth’s climate to do anything it wouldn’t otherwise do. The Learned Climate Scientists can’t provide this evidence, all they can provide is speculation and Lies. Don’t take my word for it, ask one or more of these Learned Climate Scientsts to provide the evidence. Their lack of an answer will tell you all you need to know.

      Any CAGW believer is invited to provide their evidence right here. Please do. I’m not expecting much of a response. You shouldn’t either. Because they don’t have these answers, although they pretend they do.

      There are a lot of credulous people in the world but this CAGW thing is an easy one to figure out once you realize the people pushing the CAGW fiction can’t really back up all their claims. It’s all based on speculation, and not even good speculation. You don’t need to be a scientist to understand when a scientist can’t answer a question.

      So what’s wrong with these goofs over in the EU? They are still running as fast as they can towards the cliff. One good thing is it seems a lot of EU voters are starting to wake up and realize their current batch of socialist politiicans are doing more harm than good. Vote them out!

  4. The miniscule saving in retrofitting insulation is similar to the smart meters that cost £400 to install but result in a saving of only £11 per year.
    The side issues of making houses airtight seem to be fogotten, necessitating improvements to ventilation, preferably with heat exchange between outgoing and incoming air.

    • Smart meters. They come with a private network. The also come with an inhouse network intended for monitoring ( and control ) of appliances. The smart meter can then bridge these two networks allowing the implementation of rationing and ‘time of day’ power supply on an appliance by appliance basis.
      My new ‘smart’ meter supports ZigBee network in the house which, if it were legal, allows the electric company to remotely command my clothes dryer to operate only at night or to control my air conditioning ( if I had it) remotely. The latter exists in practice and is sold as a service.
      It also allows the company to cut back certain kinds of electical demand as it requires.
      In my mind it is called RATIONING.

      That smart meter isn’t for monitoring and cost savings it is for the electric company to manage its network and profits. Period.

  5. Ah yes, the threshold of diminishing returns — another economic reality that doomsayers often forget. Something we should all remember, doomsayers, skeptics and Polyannas alike, is that the purpose of “decarbonising” is TO PUNISH, not to make life better. We’re talking Neo-Puritanise and Neo-Prohibitionise the unbelieving sinners on a vast scale. Driving & flying around, living in detached homes, eating refrigerated foods, etc. etc. are accoutrements of an industrialized lifestyle. MOST OF THOSE THINGS ARE FUN. Puritans of today are allowed to marry & divorce five times, abandon their children, get addicted to half a dozen drugs, turn their backs on barbarian rape gangs, and enjoy retinues of flunkies while they preach to the peons about austerity. But GAIA FORBID any peon should sit before a fire, read a book by electric light, and sip soda pop from a plastic bottle.

    Nit-picking unbelievers to death with annoying regulations will never satisfy the Gaia-worshipers. Banning internal combustion engines won’t suffice, either; nor enforced veganism, nor thicker insulation in buildings. Eventually, we’ll all be moved into barracks that are FAR more efficient than individual domiciles. We’ll be fed scientifically-designed gruel, roped into hand labor, and forced to genuflect to the new deities. All but the big shots who “saved the world.” They’ll do whatever they want, just like the pigs on Orwell’s “Animal Farm.”

  6. Color me suspicious. This analysis offers an awfully convenient justification of what the AGW watermelons (green outside; red inside) to impose what their ultimate goal has always been – a totalitarian state with corresponding loss of individual liberties.

    I also wonder whether their calculations include the CO2 emitted by the machinery and industries that produced the materials for the retrofitting and their installation.

  7. Two years after Grenfell, UK taxpayer will now foot the bill for removing all the insulating cladding from thousands of buildings.

  8. Hey! But the benefit cost ratio exceeds one at an interest rate of 0.000%!
    Do I need to explain this as sarcasm?

  9. The basis of this analysis is clearly defective. Nobody is going to instantaneously spend $195 thousand dollars US on energy upgrades on average homes at 100% compliance. The real world does not work that way.

    In the real world, there will not be 100% compliance … a nation would be lucky to see even 50% compliance within a generation’s time.

    In the real world, energy upgrades happen more or less automatically when old equipment (furnaces, air conditioners, etc.) wear out and the only replacements available are modern efficient appliances .. and when new owners buy the home and want to upgrade things from windows to doors to weathersealing to kitchen appliances, etc. etc. And of course new homes will replace old worn out homes.

    If the government does nothing at all but mandate minimum performance specs for replacement items – HVAC, appliances, windows, insulation, etc. via the common building code system used in most developed nations, then most of these changes will take place on their own without any further government action. That is the sensible approach, and it is the approach we certainly are taking in the USA.

    • How about letting individuals decide for themselves how much “efficiency” they are willing to pay for. Or more likely, let them decide for themselves where the trade off between usability and efficiency should be for them.

      What is it about liberals and their desires to use government to force everyone to behave as they want them to?

    • In the real world there is no CAGW but politicians rarely do things based on what is happening in the real world.

  10. Progressives don’t care and don’t want to understand the concept of ROI. They’re all about seizing power and bullying people—anything goes as long as that objective is achieved.

  11. Um…there is no path to UN emissions targets via insulating buildings better. Not even close. Laughable.

    Nothing short of several thousand 1Gw nuclear can get close. This includes forcing ASIA to Nuclearize as well.

    But Warmists are strongly against nuclear because they don’t want a solution that doesn’t feature authoritarian socialist command economies with them at the helm. AND THAT AIN’T GONNA HAPPEN without lots of violence and strife. (If it turns to war this time, my money’s on the US Military…whoever controls them wins.)

    Back on earth…warmunists will have their hands full with populist movements motivated by people angry about paying too much for unreliable energy or angry about too many people freezing to death. If the warmunists are in power, these populist movements will be handled in the usual Marxist fashion.

  12. The CCC are essentially a public menace driven by alarmist drivel from the Met Office:

    “Summers like that of 2018 have already become 30 times more likely due to climate change.”

    “The average number of hot days in the UK has been increasing since the 1960s. The chance of a summer as hot as 2018 is around 50% by 2050. Projections show that maximum summer temperatures could rise by 6 – 9°C by the end of the century compared to the 1981-2000 average.”

    And irrational claims from Adam Scaife that anthropogenic warming would ‘completely swamp’ any effects of a grand solar minimum. As if the extreme cold of Dec 2010 and March 2013 had never happened, it would be more honest to say that those cold events completely swamped the effects of global warming. Dec 2010 was the second coldest Dec in 359 years for Central England.

    Our greatest heatwaves, in 1976, 2003, 2006, have nothing to do with climate change, they were discretely solar driven and otherwise would not have existed, and they are drivers of climate change. Rising CO2 levels cannot influence the frequency of such events, and has very little to do with their intensity.

    Turning the room thermostat down to 19°C will do absolutely zero to our weather patterns, but it will increase cold related death rates. Even the NHS recommends a minimum of 20°C.

    • If we have summers like 2018 , then we cut down on heating. The English summers of my younger years, cold, wet and grey, meant some form of heat was required throughout the year.
      Has anyone calculated the savings in fuel (gas or oil), or in electricity (60% from gas ) with a reasonably hot summer and consequently the reduction in CO2 emission?
      Not that CO2 emission is a significant problem , but if it was then warmer summers would reduce the problem, until a state of equilibrium exists.

      • Summer 2018 was not a symptom of climate change, it was within the historical variability apart from about one day, despite global warming. June 1676 in the Maunder Minimum was almost 2°C warmer than June 2018 for Central England. It’s more likely to be associated with occasional strong blocking patterns during centennial solar minima. The weather history of Japan shows similar weather patterns during centennial minima, generally wetter summers punctuated by occasional extremely dry ones.
        I reckon the Met Office is guilty of weaponising weather rather than understanding it.

  13. I’m wondering if there is a sub-set of efficiency changes that might drastically reduce the cost, yet yield much of the savings? Getting the low-hanging fruit.

    I would be curious to see analysis where the energy saving feature are applied one a a time to gauge their effectiveness.

  14. Why bother insulating when all our energy is going to come from renewables? And they are really, really cheap, right?

  15. So instead of 330,000,000 Americans making economic decisions in which they have personal vested interests, we transfer those decisions to three or four “Command Economists” that only work a four-day week? What could possibly go wrong??

  16. Reality Check:
    Venezuela is a ‘command economy’.
    North Korea is a ‘command economy’.
    Cuba is a ‘command economy’.

    Look before you Leap into a Command Economy, Professor Michael Kelly, University of Cambridge!

  17. I know I have been away quite a bit recently so appear to have missed the memo about renaming “Communism” as “Command Economy”.
    What idiot thought that up?
    Anyway, like Jordan B Peterson, I’m not doing it.
    If it walks/talks/looks like Communism I sure as hell am not calling it anything else.

  18. All my life I have lived in only old wooden houses in NZ. They tend not to fall down in earthquakes. As those houses are renovated, insulation has been installed. For my current house the insulation cost about NZ$2000 including installation. The house is warm and dry in winter with minimal use of electric heaters and cool in summer. My annual heating and clothes dryer bill is about $300. Because I am old the government is giving me $400 to pay for that.
    I have double glazed most windows. I recommend doing that. It cuts out most noise from outside.

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