On the Home Front: SCI and CIED at Manchester Policy Week, by Dan Welch. 5 November 2015

November 5th for the SCI and the Centre on Innovation and Energy Demand this year was about home fires not bonfires, as the research centres contributed to Manchester Policy Week with an event focused on challenges of reducing household energy use. ‘On the Home Front’ brought together leading thinkers from the world of social science, policy and practice, with fellow academics, local activists and students, to discuss how households can dramatically reduce their energy consumption, the lessons of UK domestic energy policies and how the social sciences can inform the debate. The event kicked off with organiser Dr. Victoria Johnson (SCI and CIED) introducing a workshop of around 40 delegates to the place of household energy demand reduction in the wider context of climate change. The workshop then split into groups to discuss a number of ‘provocations’ around the issues, facilitated by SCI researchers Nicola Hutson and Dan Welch, as a process to develop informed and insightful questions to be posed a panel of experts later that evening.

Provocations included issues such as: “Financial incentives are the only way to reduce household energy consumption”; “Should the government no longer have to subsidise solar photovoltaics through the Feed-in-Tariff”; and “Was the government right to abandon the Zero Carbon Homes Standard?”. My own group, tackling the last of those provocations, was made up of two third year undergraduates embarking on energy related dissertations, a postgraduate researcher working on sustainability in industrial systems, a member of Manchester’s Carbon Co-op with personal experience of home retrofitting and someone just about to embark on a building a passive house for retirement. Lively discussion ensued covering everything from the tension between behavioural change and background smart technologies, the effect of abandoning the Zero Carbon Standard on the mainstream and sustainability specialist construction industry, the UK housing crisis, and the marginal higher costs of zero carbon new builds in the context of inflated land prices.

After feeding back group discussions to the workshop as a whole we carried on the conversations at a networking reception, surrounded by the historic stained glass windows of Manchester’s Mechanics Institute, the birthplace of the Trades Unions Congress in 1868, as well as Co-operative Insurance Society and UMIST (University of Manchester Institute of Science & Technology).

Following the reception, ‘On the Home Front’ moved onto ‘Energy Question Time’, a panel discussion ably chaired by the Carbon Co-op’s Jonathon Atkinson. The panel consisted of the SCI Research Fellow Dr. Alison Browne, Richard Segar (Senior Policy and Projects Officer, ResPublica, and author of ‘After the Green Deal’ report), Councillor Kate Chappell of Manchester City Council (Executive Member for the Environment), architect Marianne Heaslip of Urbanism Environmental Design, Dr. Mari Martiskainen (Research Fellow at the CIED) and Ron Bailey, Head of Parliamentary Affairs, Sustainable Energy Association.

A wide ranging and informed debate followed covering diverse topics, including: Manchester City Council’s plans to establish a collective energy supply deal for local residents; the future of the solar installation industry; how the Sustainable Communities Bill might be used to leverage local supply deals from community energy generation projects; the social equity of the Feed in Tariff; and difficulties of engaging householders with energy efficiency programmes.