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Leading the way to alleviate fuel poverty

Posted on 6 December 2016 02:05 PM by privi1g

I was honoured to pick up a top award on behalf of UK Power Networks for our energywise project – an industry-leading scheme helping to brighten the lives of households that are struggling to pay their energy bills.

I was in Barcelona with my innovation team colleague Ian Cooper and Panos Papadopoulos from UK Power Networks Services attending the European Utility Week and the European Utility Industry Awards, in which energywise was shortlisted – and then won – in the Community Award category.

Engaging with social tenants
The scheme itself engages with hundreds of social tenants in one of the most deprived areas in London, the Borough of Tower Hamlets. It is the first Low Carbon Network Fund project to specifically address the needs of those in fuel poverty and enable them to get the most out of energy saving and different tariff structures that encourage people to use energy at different times, a concept known as Demand Side Response.

Fuel poverty is a serious and complicated issue affecting householders, generally those on low incomes, who are struggling to pay their energy bills. The Department for Energy and Climate Change estimated that in 2013, 4.5 million households in the UK (17% of all UK households) were in ‘fuel poverty’, and many of them are also classified as vulnerable.

Reducing fuel poverty
Energy efficiency initiatives are key to reducing fuel poverty and smart meters have the potential to play a major role in enabling households to be more efficient. Households in fuel poverty are among those who have the most to gain, yet many face barriers to realising the energy savings that new technology could bring.

Our flagship four-year project energywise, which started in January 2014, is seeking to understand how the industry can better engage with traditionally hard to reach groups on energy initiatives and break the identified barriers in delivering energy saving benefits, particularly ahead of the national roll-out of smart meters.

Highly effective and targeted campaign
We led a highly effective and targeted campaign to enlist participants in Tower Hamlets by working closely with our partners including social housing providers (Tower Hamlets Homes and Poplar HARCA), a local community centre (the Bromley by Bow Centre) and an energy supplier (British Gas). We did this by focusing on customers in less efficient properties and using trusted local organisations to help break down barriers with residents.

We have now successfully installed smart meters, delivered energy efficiency devices and offered energy saving advice to local residents. The next stage of the project will be to understand the willingness of households to change their behaviour when they are on a tariff that offers different rates at different times.

energywise has taught us invaluable lessons on the best ways to engage with fuel poor and hard to reach customers, and how to develop partnership between suppliers and trusted local intermediaries to support these households to better manage their energy consumption.

I am delighted that the project’s success has now been recognised with the award for Community Energy at the European Utility Industry Awards in Barcelona. It was an immense pleasure for me to attend the Awards ceremony on the 15 November representing the team as project lead together with our partner Mark Hughes from Element Energy.

Receiving the Community Energy Award means a great deal to us and our project partners; it recognises our innovative approach of working collaboratively with trusted local organisations on the international stage and highlights the fact that it is possible to reach out to the customers who need us most. Furthermore, it demonstrates that as a company we are doing the right thing by taking the issue of fuel poverty seriously.

Playing a key role
Engerati, who hosted the award ceremony and interviewed me the following day at the European Utility Week, highlighted in their press release that the project was recognised for playing a key role in ensuring that all customers are able to access the benefits of the smart metering technology and are not marginalised through barriers. They also said that one aspect of our approach that stands out is using a team from the local community to explain the benefits to customers face to face and engage them in wanting to save energy and money.

Something new
I am personally very proud of this project, especially because providing energy efficiency support to communities is a something new for Distribution Network Operators like us who don’t bill customers directly. By learning from our project, UK Power Networks has held eight energy efficiency workshops with five housing associations this year: indeed, partnering with social landlords has allowed us to reach many more tenants and also educate social housing staff to raise energy awareness. This is a great outcome for us because it shows that findings from energywise have been quickly translated into business-as-usual practices and replicated in other areas of London to support the improvement of the quality of life of fuel poor and vulnerable households.

So far, we have learned so much, but I’m very clear that next year is going to be even more interesting when we will complete the analysis of the energy saving from the smart meter data and we will test the response of our participants to a different tariff!

If you want to find out more about the energywise project, please contact us on or visit our innovation website.  

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