The House of the Rising Bill; Let’s Talk Climate Housing
Each winter, millions of low-income renters would rather stay cold than fork out precious savings to pay to heat their homes. Wholesale electricity prices have soared globally in 2021, which alongside extreme weather conditions (ahem, climate change) has pushed more and more households into “fuel poverty”. This is a perfect storm for marginalized, underserved and low income communities as the deeper they fall into the poverty cycle, the more exposed they become to the ripple effects of climate change including food insecurity, air pollution, temperature extremes and poor wellbeing. For the homeless, extreme weather can be a death sentence.
Lack of affordable housing has grown to crisis-level across most of the urban centers of the world, with the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University highlighting “lack of affordable rental housing, unequal access to good-quality homes, and the vulnerability of much of the housing stock to natural disasters” as the key observations and concerns of 2020. In over 90% of a sample of 502 global cities in 2020, housing was considered unaffordable relative to median family income, before climate change is factored into the equation. This is now being compounded by the fact that most housing stock deemed to be “affordable” is old, inefficient, made from potentially toxic materials and contributing massively to carbon emissions; and inhabited by those who don’t have the financial capacity to fix these problems. The catch I’m trying to highlight — and a point I’m hesitant to raise to as someone who is extremely pro a green energy transition — is that climate change mitigation and preparedness efforts can raise the cost of housing even more, creating a tension between maintaining affordable energy access and tackling climate change. Increased quality standards, the need for cooling capabilities as well as efficient heating (yes, even England is hot these days) require expensive retrofits, additional materials and labor. At the same time, the infrastructure transition required to meet consumer energy needs for commerce, transit, and other industries through renewable sources is going to be a costly exercise.
However, there is a sustainable silver lining. Although the upfront costs of this energy transition and a move toward energy efficient / net zero homes is significant upfront, it is simplistic and inaccurate to assume that this is the driver of higher energy bills. In the UK, the cost of the wholesale electricity accounts for only 34% of a consumer’s energy bill, with the remaining bill comprised of taxes, levies, network operating costs and fees charged by retail electricity suppliers. The cost of renewables has dropped so dramatically in the last decade, with solar and wind power becoming the cheapest to produce, that it’s up to governments and regulators to tie energy bills more closely to the type of power being purchased, allowing consumers to benefit from these cheaper, greener sources. Over time, this transition will save tenants a significant amount in bills alongside all the cleaner, greener, healthier outcomes that come with reduced fossil fuel dependency.
Hayley Mole, Vice President
Insulate Britain, an offshoot of the infamous Extinction Rebellion, has made the headlines the in UK for blocking highways and causing 6-hour traffic jams. But what tends to get lost in media coverage of these protests is the reason why they are out in force in the first place: Britain has some of the least energy-efficient homes in Europe, accounting for a larger contribution to carbon emissions that the country’s agricultural sector, and improvements towards an energy efficient home are prohibitively expensive. Insulate Britain wants the government to provide funding for the insulation of homes — notably as the current British government was elected on a manifesto promising £9.2bn for residential energy efficiency, with insulation as a priority action item.
In the wake of COP26, everyone is throwing around the term “net zero” — but not everyone seems to know what is means. Net zero refers to a state in which the greenhouse gases going into the atmosphere are balanced by removal out of the atmosphere and is an internationally agreed upon goal set by the IPCC. Want to learn more about President Biden’s half a trillion dollar commitment to net zero by 2050? This summary of the House spending bill (humble brag — by my good friend and climate reporter Tik Root) lays it all out.
The Energy System, by my former professor Travis Bradford, explains everything you need to know about the dynamics of energy, from supply shifts to consumer spending to carbon.
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