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Filling the energy gap for home workers

Working from home has put energy and connectivity high on the agenda for remote workers. Meanwhile, pollution levels are inching back up. Callum Woods reports. 

At the time of writing (September 2020) a significant proportion of Scotland’s workforce is still working from home, and the home office has become one of the most important rooms in the house.

A reliable internet connection is a must, as streaming videos and playing games play second fiddle to downloading files, accessing the remote server, hosting Zoom and MS Teams meetings, and – in our case – using mapping software.

It may now be time to search for broadband deals with higher speeds as opposed to the cheapest tariff; your system may well have to support both parents working needs and perhaps a young adult starting at university, who may find themselves receiving lectures online instead of celebrating freshers’ week. Strange times indeed!

It is worth bearing in mind that if you are in Scotland and must still work from home you can access an increased allowance of £26 a month via the HMRC website to help with increased energy costs.

Homeowners in England can be eligible for up to £5,000 towards improving the energy efficiency of their properties as part of the Green Homes Grant scheme, while in Scotland support will be provided via the warmer Homes Scotland Scheme (HEEPS).

The scheme is mostly used to install new boilers or insulation, but it can also be used to contribute to renewable sources of energy such as solar and wind. More than 20,000 households have benefited from the scheme with most receiving more than £4,000. People who own their home or are private tenants and spend more than 20% of their household income, after living costs, on heating their home could be eligible for a further increase in funding. Interest-free loans are also available to improve a home’s energy efficiency.

The unprecedented reduction in the use of cars, public transport and aircraft initially saw air pollution levels around the country – and the globe – drop significantly when full lockdown measures were introduced.

This was particularly noticeable in major cities as all but essential services ground to a halt. For example, in the Indian capital of new Delhi, by the fourth day of lockdown air quality had improved by 40-50%.

Closer to home, however, a report by Defra assessing the impact of lockdown measures to the end of April has revealed that overall concentrations of particulate matter (PM2.5) have been higher in this period than in previous years. It is thought that unusual weather patterns, including winds from Europe, helped to push levels higher than normal.

As lockdown restrictions have eased, air pollution levels are rising. In June London saw a 34% rise in nitrogen dioxide from the lowest level during lockdown. According to one study by researchers at the University of Stirling, PM2.5 air pollution did not decline during the lockdown in Scotland.

High air pollution levels are almost certain to negatively affect those with or who are recovering from Covid-19 and make those with underlying health conditions more susceptible to infection. All this has put extra pressure on UK and Scottish Government plans to reduce emission and greenhouse gas levels.