We’ve had an abundance of fuel for so many decades. Suddenly there are energy problems that have affected the whole of the UK in recent weeks. We have frantically had to queue for petrol for our cars, and numerous energy companies have gone bust due to soaring wholesale prices.

Robert Whitton

Robert Whitton

Many Property Week readers will remember petrol shortages and a deep crisis during the Blair years as tanker drivers flexed their industrial muscle, but today the problem seems more deep-rooted and many are forecasting a cold, hard winter ahead.

The rapid rebound from Covid-19 lockdowns is one reason for our current energy woes, but this has been exacerbated by an alarming shortage of natural gas and less wind than for 50 years in the

North Sea, meaning turbines have generated lower-than-expected power.

The supply chain ethos of ‘just in time’ works until there is a break in that chain when there needs to be a plan for ‘just in case’.

Energy bills are expensive and likely to rise further – but those living in poor, thermally inefficient housing are likely to be affected the most.

So, what can the property industry do to help those hit by fuel poverty? Fuel poverty is defined by the government as households that need to spend a high proportion of their income to keep their homes at a reasonable temperature. It is affected by three key factors: a household’s income, its fuel costs and its energy consumption.

Cold homes can damage mental and physical health, putting pressure on the NHS and social care providers and directly contributing to excess winter deaths.

Fuel poverty leads to people making the heart-breaking choice of ’heat or eat’, with those most at risk being children and the elderly.

According to the government’s latest Fuel Poverty Report, around 25% of homes in Scotland, 18% in Northern Ireland, 13% in England and 12% in Wales are classified as fuel poor.

Tough goals

At the same time, the UK is committed to hitting tough climate goals by 2050, meaning that nearly all existing homes will need to be upgraded to improve energy efficiency and switch to low-carbon heating. And we need to build zero-carbon new homes by 2030.

Inspired developers need to create a new generation of energy-efficient homes. We need to recognise our responsibility to cater for a fairer future – one where fuel poverty is a thing of the past.

Sustainable housing must include heating solutions such as solar power, hydrogen or electric boilers and air source heat pumps, but lead from a fabric-first design approach.

The good news is that according to Savanta ComRes polling of 5,022 adults in February this year for Nesta, an agency for social good, 83% of people would be willing to adopt energy efficiency measures in their own homes – and 85% of consumers believe climate change is one of the most important issues that needs to be addressed in the UK. In any sector, doing what your customers want has to be the guiding light, and real estate is no different.

The built environment is one of the biggest polluters in the world. Covid-19 must be a catalyst to embrace modern methods of construction for a collaborative and sustainable future.

At Impact Capital Group, we are committed to the accelerated transition to a net zero carbon built environment and to ending fuel poverty. Homes should be affordable, sustainable and smart. It’s a lesson we’ve all been reminded of in recent weeks as we sit in the queue for petrol, experiencing fuel shortages first hand ourselves.

Robert Whitton is founder and chief executive of Impact Capital Group