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Innovative project puts customers in control of future energy

A pioneering project has shown how people living in deprived areas can be helped to use new technology - and save money on their energy bills.

From Press releases - 1 August 2018 12:00 AM

More than 4.5 million low-income households across the United Kingdom are currently living in ‘fuel poverty’ and struggling to pay their electricity bills. The Energywise project by UK Power Networks worked with residents in the London borough of Tower Hamlets to give them the skills and knowledge to benefit from smart meters, and reduce their energy bills.

Energywise marked the first time that an electricity distributor has collaborated with an energy supplier, charities, and community organisations to explore how they can help customers in vulnerable circumstances reap the benefits of smart meters and smart devices and tariffs on offer. Customers at risk of fuel poverty often have very little engagement with their energy company, and this project set out to ensure they are not left behind.

During the trial, UK Power Networks worked with the Bromley by Bow Centre charity to recruit local staff who were already familiar with the community’s culture and languages. They helped 538 households register for the trial, and more than 80% of sign-ups came from a personal visit which indicated that face-to-face engagement was key.

Participants were given a smart meter, energy efficiency devices and advice, plus special tariffs through British Gas. More than two thirds said they are now more aware of how to save energy, and almost half said that having a smart meter helped them manage their electricity use. People on the tariffs saved money by using washing machines, tumble dryers and cookers outside peak times. The average prepayment customer taking part in the trial saved £37 a year, with some residents saving up to £111 a year.

The study provided an insight into how local authorities and other organisations can support residents to take advantage of the unprecedented changes in energy that are giving consumers more control and flexibility over the generation and use of their electricity.  The Energywise project demonstrated how to remove barriers to energy-saving opportunities, for households who need it the most.

The findings of the trial have been shared with experts from charities, local and national government, academia and industry. UK Power Networks is now commissioning further research to understand the extent to which people in vulnerable circumstances are in danger of being left behind, by innovation in the energy industry.

Dr Giulia Privitera, low carbon technologies delivery manager at UK Power Networks said: “We are standing on the verge of a change as significant for electricity as the advent of broadband was for telecommunications, and we want to ensure all our customers, including the most vulnerable and hard-to-reach,benefit..

“Some people do need extra help and as a network operator we can’t achieve that alone; one of the key learnings from this project is that it really works to partner with respected, community-based organisations. Energywise has proved that an inclusive approach can make real differences to engaging with people who are traditionally hard to reach out to.

“Plus, if enough people consistently shift their electricity use from peak times in a controlled way, it could mean less additional capacity has to be installed on our distribution network. That ultimately benefits every electricity bill payer.”

Peter Smith, director of policy and research at project partner National Energy Action said: “This important project is the first to our knowledge that has trialled electricity tariffs that offered people an incentive to move their consumption away from peak time, but without penalising them for using electricity at peak times. This approach has been recommended by consumer groups as it allows some vulnerable consumers, who may need to maintain demand at peak periods, to still take part and potentially save money. 

“Another key innovative approach was an electricity network working with a national energy supplier to help vulnerable customers receive or benefit from smart metering solutions, time-of-use tariffs and other energy saving measures. As a result, we have learned a great deal about how we can help those customers who need this support the most.”

UK Power Networks collaborated with partners including the charity National Energy Action, British Gas, the community centre of Bromley by Bow, Tower Hamlets Homes, Poplar HARCA and University College London which led the research, design and data analysis for the project.

For more information about Energywise see: http://innovation.ukpowernetworks.co.uk/innovation/en/Projects/tier-2-projects/Energywise/