The Basil Fawlty energy policy

23rd Apr 2018


There’s a sketch in Fawlty Towers where Basil berates his long-suffering wife Sybil for “statin’ the bleedin’ obvious” and I came across a research paper last week, commissioned by BEIS (translated that means paid for by the taxpayer) which would fit nicely into the Basil Fawlty world – yes, it too “stated the bleedin’ obvious”.

International Comparisons of Heating, Cooling and Heat Decarbonisation Policies’ published in November 2017 starts off with an unsurprising finding:-

“Internationally, the buildings sector has been slow to embark along the path to decarbonisation”. Well hardly news, improvements have been made in the UK but our building stock is energy inefficient, four out of ten homes still have outdated boilers, not condensing ones, for example.

Then came the startling revelation, wrapped up in academic speak, that heating fuels tend towards what they describe as “natural energy endowment” which makes for relatively low-cost sources of energy. Translated, if a country has loads of hydro then they use electric; if they gas, they use gas. Well I never thought about that!

They go on to say, where gas heating is provided via a gas network there has been little progress moving away from gas, despite what they describe as “substantial efforts”.

Another little nugget from them. “Possible reasons for the lack of progress regarding gas grid transitions include the low cost of gas fuel and boilers, the high level of service provided by gas boilers, the disruption associated with retrofits and the lock-in costs associated with existing infrastructure.” Again, “statin’ the bleedin’ obvious”.

But throughout the report, as always it seems, there was this theme which basically hinted at how well Sweden was doing; look at Sweden; Sweden fits heat pumps and district heating. Then it came – “Sweden has the highest carbon tax in Europe” as well as an energy tax of gas heating. The impact? According to the report, the UK gas price per KWh is half that in Sweden.

I’m going to give BEIS some advice, for free. You are going to look ridiculous if at the same time as you are introducing an energy price cap, you see doubling the price of gas as a good policy tool. Now I know, that really is “statin’ the bleedin’ obvious.”