Failure to deliver home improvements to rural areas means households cannot keep pace with rising energy bills, pushing more people into fuel poverty.
Rural communities are missing out on funding aimed at improving energy efficiency and tackling fuel poverty, and many people are struggling to heat their homes. According to analysis of government data by National Energy Action (NEA) and the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), rural households are paying 55% more for their energy than urban areas, due chiefly to differences in energy efficiency.
Rural dwellings in 2015 had efficiency standards broadly equivalent to the those achieved by their urban counterparts in 2008-09, some six or seven years ago. Just over 20% of rural households are in the worst-performing efficiency bands F and G, compared to 2.8% in urban areas.
The CPRE has found that the 18% of the population who live in rural areas receive a mere 1% of the grants to improve the energy efficiency of their homes. Also, it costs more to heat homes in rural areas, over £450 a year more on average. The situation is most acute in isolated parts of the countryside where the population is widely scattered.
Lower energy efficiency
The government data show how rural properties tend to be in the lower energy efficiency bands, and have higher CO2 emissions than city centre and suburban dwellings. And although energy use per unit area is higher in urban areas, rural households have much higher energy bills. This means in effect that city dwellers can afford to have warmer homes.
Peter Smith, Director of Policy and Research at NEA, said: "Far from a rural idyll, these communities often rely on more expensive fuels such as electricity and oil to heat and power their homes... Often households live in harder-to-treat, energy-inefficient properties with solid walls. Delivery of these types of home improvements has stalled and is now failing to keep up with the pace and scale of rising energy prices."
"Reduce energy demand"
In its 2015 report Warm and Green, the CPRE emphasized the need to focus resources on improving energy efficiency of homes, to reduce energy demand and cut carbon emissions. This would then ease the pressure on the countryside in the provision of new energy sources, whether fracking, biomass, solar farms, or wind turbines.
Responding to the latest data, Daniel Carey-Dawes of the CPRE said that "The government can try to meet escalating demand through eye-wateringly expensive energy projests. Or, by improving energy efficiency, it can save money for consumers, lower the costs of meeting demand, reduce carbon emissions and protect the countryside. For the sake of our environment, it seems a pretty simple choice."