Royals blasted for wasting energy and leaving palace windows open

Royals under fire for wasting energy and money at Buckingham Palace. Is this fair?

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There's yet more trouble at Buckingham Palace. As the country's media zoomed in to take photos of the flags flown controversially at half-mast after the death of Saudi Arabian King Adbullah, eagle-eyed commentators spotted that there were a number of windows open on one of the coldest days of the year. In fact there were 25 windows open, attracting the outrage of environmentalists and taxpayers alike.

The Sun was quick to break the news, highlighting that the Palace costs around £1.1 million to heat each year, and that the Queen has supposedly signed up to a carbon-cutting club. It quotes green campaigners and the Taxpayers' Alliance, with vary degrees of anger and shock.

It drew on a study in 2009 that identified the palace as the worst building for energy efficiency in London - followed ironically by the Department for the Environment. A group of energy surveyors gave the palace a rating of 0 out of 10 - partly as a result of a thermal photograph, which showed the windows leaking an enormous amount of heat into the surrounding air.

The same thing was done in October 2013 by B&Q Energy Saving, which again identified the windows (along with the doors) as the major source of heat loss.

Save your outrage

However, before anyone loses too much sleep, it's worth bearing in mind that the Daily Mail quoted a palace spokesperson who said that windows were left ajar because of ongoing maintenance, including painting, which requires the area to be well ventilated. It's also important to remember that while it's not great that 25 windows were open, this is 25 of a total of 760.

The single pane windows have come in for plenty of criticism over the years, but let's not forget that these weren't installed by the current monarch, and she's powerless to order their replacement with UPVC double-glazing, because they are protected by the Grade I listing.

In fact, the Royal Household has a special division employed to improve energy efficiency, and as a result of their work, a large number of the skylights have been replaced with double-glazing, combined heat and power units have been installed, flat plate heat exchangers are in place, it finally has heating thermostats and automatic lighting sensors, and it has a computerised Building Management System - to enable the heating to be turned down everywhere if the outside temperatures rise.

To add to all this work, as the Royal website puts it: "Many areas of the Palace are heated to relatively low levels and therefore do not waste energy." It's not known, therefore, whether these windows were open in rooms that were already experiencing Baltic conditions because they hadn't been heated in years.

The Palace has been given a C rating for energy efficiency, which would be disappointing in a new build, but is considered relatively good for a historic property. The Palace has added that when its boilers reach the end of their useful life, they'll be replaced with more energy-efficient ones too.

More extreme money-saving

The monarchy remains under pressure to cut costs. Since 2007, annual costs have been cut by 5%, but last January the Public Affairs Committee demanded that expenses be cut further - after reserves hit a new low. It announced: "The household needs to get better at planning and managing its budgets for the longer term – and the Treasury should be more actively involved in reviewing what the household is doing."

It seems, therefore, that the Royal Household is going to have less of a say in how warm their home is going to be - and whether or not windows are allowed to be opened. More interference and control from the Treasury may save thousands of pounds a year in spending - although with a couple of elderly people in the house, it's questionable as to whether the property should be allowed to get too cold.

The Green Party would like to see this level of saving go still further. If elected, it would have a mandate to abolish the monarchy, and Natalie Bennett, the Green Party Leader has said: "I can't see that the Queen is ever going to be really poor, but I'm sure we can find a council house for her - we're going to build lots more."

This would presumably put a stop to all this energy waste, if they're in a decently-insulated new-build. But is this what we really want?

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