James Sommerville, Head of Business Development, AgilityEco
Last week Gearoid and I attended the National Energy Action (NEA) 2017 Annual Conference in Nottingham. It’s one of the highlights of my professional year and brings together hundreds of delegates who all have an interest in tackling fuel poverty. This year’s tagline was ‘A fairer energy future for all’; no-one could disagree that this is a worthy aim, but how are we going to deliver it?
In the most recent statistics the number of English households in fuel poverty has risen to 11% and the majority of UK households have seen a hike in their energy bills this year. The government is seeking to expand the number of households subject to a price cap on energy bills but inertia caused by the general election and Brexit seems to have put paid to any radical expansion. There certainly doesn’t seem to be any planned increase in investment in ‘fairer energy futures’ by government – more the refocusing of existing resources (such as the Warm Home Discount and the Energy Company Obligation) to be a bit more effective.
The national strategy to deal with fuel poverty remains almost solely focused on improving the energy efficiency rating of properties, as measured by their EPC rating. This is a good start, but at conference we heard about many real life cases of vulnerable families who wouldn’t fall into the current ‘low income high cost’ definition of fuel poverty - it’s no good having a property that’s energy efficient on paper if you haven’t got enough money to turn the heating on!
Nevertheless I came away optimistic from the conference because of the overwhelming evidence that the technological solutions being developed in the energy sector will have an enormous impact on fuel poverty. In particular, the interim feedback from some of the 44 projects paid for by NEA’s Technical Innovation Fund shows the opportunities for all UK households are enormous. My two favourites are:
- Smart thermostats/home energy management: the earliest smart thermostats have been marketed at tech-savvy households who like apps and total control from their smartphones. Now we’re seeing heating controls that operate autonomously and learn from a household rather than needing human input – such as Switchee. ideal for elderly and vulnerable people who struggle with traditional heating controls. With a household’s permission further sensors can be introduced to a home to provide additional feedback to landlords or support services. Data on room temperature, excess moisture (which can lead to mould and damp) and boiler condition (highlighting inefficiency or potential failure) means the household can be supported 24/7 after a fuel poverty intervention to reduce their bills and stay healthy.
- Solar and battery: Pairing solar panels with a domestic battery that can store surplus energy for use at night is a very attractive idea, but there has been scepticism at the cost. Yet with the price of panels and batteries dropping far faster than previously predicted they will soon be a cost effective solution for landlords and local authorities looking for a new way to reduce fuel poverty in the homes of the most vulnerable. There’s been significant media interest and debate over the last few months in the development of electric vehicles and we might see the same for home storage. Even without solar panels, batteries can operate intelligently to store cheap overnight energy and so guarantee lower prices, making them suitable for flats and properties without south facing roofs.
The potential of these technologies to reduce energy bills and help those most at risk from fuel poverty has been proven - the challenge now is to build on NEA’s learning and deploy these new technologies at scale as soon as possible.
At AgilityEco we will be looking to work with manufacturers and partners across the country to leverage the maximum funding and integrate the best and most cost-effective products into our LEAP service, which will be supporting thousands of vulnerable households this winter to stay warm and well.