You don’t need to look far to see evidence that our climate is changing and while our government has published a bold net zero strategy titled Build Back Greener, the penny is finally dropping that this is not a vote winner. With a general election looming and the electorate recoiling from rising energy bills, mortgage costs and food prices, further burdening the British voter with the price of going green could cost the Tories the election victory they clearly want.
Expensive personal green projects
Recently, I’ve embarked on two ambitious green build projects, which have made me very aware of the premium you have to pay if you want to remove fossil fuels from your life. The first project was to secure planning consent to build an earth sheltered dwelling near Wymondham, Norfolk that would capture and store the sun’s energy, so need no mechanical heating. A generous array of solar panels would power the home, with surplus electricity exported, so that energy bills are swapped for energy payments.
It took two years to secure planning consent, and while we had planned to make this our forever home, the need to care for now unwell aged family members meant moving back to Suffolk and the town where we grew up. Marketing a plot with consent to build what promises to be one of the most energy efficient homes in the UK is proving harder than it looks. Performance data from similar dwellings that proves that running costs are negligible still makes prospective buyers suspicious. If the consent had been for a traditional house with gas fired central heating, we’d have sold it in a week.
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So, the government’s first challenge is that people are not sufficiently motivated to leave the familiar and embrace the new, however convincing the argument. Few, in reality, want to be pioneers and, it will take years for people to move beyond recycling to truly embrace new green ways.
Expensive capital costs
There is a second challenge too: while a green lifestyle might reduce your outgoings, the capital cost of the technology is, for many, prohibitive. This of course is the nub of the Government’s dilemma. We’re nearing the completion of a barn conversion near the Suffolk coast, and to fit a gas fired boiler would have been around £30,000 cheaper than the solar panels, batteries, and air source heat pump we are having installed. That £30,000 would cover many years’ gas bills and few can afford to find that sum up front.
Perhaps the starkest example of this green conundrum is the electric car. Most of us change our car far more frequently than we move home, or have a new heating system, so the price difference between electric and petrol propulsion is more widely known. Add the shortage of public charging points, and it’s all too easy to persuade yourself to put off buying an electric car until next time, or perhaps the time after. Yet, as I’ve discovered, the reality of driving an electric car is far less scary than it appears and for me, range anxiety only lasted two weeks. But it’s not cheap!
So how can our government reconcile the urgent need for change with the gloomy fact that to go green costs money? And however stark the scientists’ warnings of future catastrophe, few will vote for a party that will force them to spend money they probably do not have.