One of the biggest obstacles to tackling fuel poverty in the UK is identifying the most vulnerable households. Jeremy Nesbitt, Managing Director of Affordable Warmth Solutions, explains how he’s working to bring off-gas-grid, vulnerable homes back on the radar.
Lost and found
“By building this database, we’ll construct a more detailed picture of UK energy and identify those in need.”
Jeremy Nesbitt, Managing Director of Affordable Warmth Solutions.
4.5 million people live in fuel poverty in the United Kingdom.
Source: Government statistics.
Millions of people in the UK are gripped by fuel poverty and those who aren’t connected to the gas mains are among the worst affected. In the most deprived areas, people are deciding whether to go to bed cold or hungry.
In a developed, modern society, this is totally unacceptable. We need to help these people. But finding them in the first place is a bigger challenge than you might think.
Lack of access to mains gas is considered to be one of the major risk factors of fuel poverty. Homes that aren’t connected are likely to be using more expensive heating fuels, such as electricity or oil, and are less likely to have their homes adequately insulated.
Affordable Warmth Solutions (AWS) was set up by National Grid in 2009. It’s a non-profit distributing organisation that is dedicated to fighting fuel poverty by investing on behalf of National Grid in new gas infrastructure and energy efficiency measures in homes that lie within some of the most deprived areas of National Grid’s gas distribution area.
We believe the only real long-term sustainable solution to alleviating fuel poverty is to establish a properly funded national programme that insulates all the homes affected and ensures an efficient heating system is installed. Guaranteeing this outcome will require significant investment and in its 12th Annual Report The Fuel Poverty Advisory Group (England) estimated £1.7bn a year is required over 15 years.
The challenge, however, is not just the job itself, but identifying the people who need our help in the first place.
Through my role on the Government’s Fuel Poverty Advisory Group (FPAG), I instigated the development of the Off Gas Grid cross industry initiative that considers some of the challenges for such homes. Our goal is to develop a UK-wide interactive database that will identify at post code level all UK properties that aren’t connected to the gas system, and to tell us much more about the type of houses affected and the levels of deprivation that exist.
I am working closely with colleagues in the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) to specify and build this database, we’ll construct a more detailed picture of UK energy, identify those in need and enable better co-ordination between energy suppliers, network distribution companies, local authorities and other stakeholders. The positive outcomes could be enormous.
The database that will be hosted by DECC will provide practical user friendly tools and information that could be used to support households that aren’t connected to a gas distribution network.
Moving forward, solution providers such as ourselves will be able to identify areas most in need and offer them more tailored solutions, whether that’s extending pipelines, unlocking third-party support or helping these households install more efficient energy systems.
Developing this data has been a long and complex journey. In a hugely competitive market, customer data is precious, so we’ve had to work closely with, gas network companies and the Government to encourage better sharing of information.
I established the FPAG-led industry working group (IWG) and have been working in partnership with the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) on the initiative. Here are some of the project milestones:
- Proposals were put to the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, who approved data-sharing agreements with network operators. Data about off-gas grid homes would now be made available down to postcode level. This would then be used in combination with data from other sources to understand more about households that are off the gas system and improve policy delivery.
- DECC agreed to publish aggregate information derived from this data under the Open Government Licence. This will include summary statistics about the distance of households from gas pipelines in small geographic areas, such as postcodes. However, it will not include publication of information on the location of the pipeline itself.
- All four gas distribution networks (plus independent transporter ES Pipelines) have provided data files to the DECC, and the Welsh Government has agreed to take forward the mapping work. Once this initial data-mapping exercise is complete, work will begin on the production of an interactive mapping solution, funded by National Grid Affordable Warmth Solutions, that is expected to be complete in the Spring 2015.
- The IWG has also been looking at the policy landscape and has identified opportunities that may be created through policy changes and consumer protection.
- The group has analysed the current support that’s available regarding off-grid fuel poverty. What’s more, it’s identified barriers to the delivery of this support and proposed potential changes to the schemes that could further help vulnerable groups.
- In terms of consumer protection, we’ve identified the high-level protections available to gas and electricity customers through license conditions and compared those available to customers using non-gas heating fuels.
- The group produced a comparative matrix that provides options for improvements in consumer protection for non-gas heating fuel customers. These findings have been shared with DECC who are currently assessing how best to take this important work forward.
We’re also working closely with the Gas Distribution Networks project team on its Future Wave initiative. This aims to create, design and develop new energy initiatives for homes that are off the gas grid.
Making warmth affordable to more people is a moral obligation in any modern society. By taking a more collaborative approach and putting better data at the fingertips of energy suppliers, networks, customers and stakeholders, we believe we can build a fairer Britain where keeping your children warm in winter is a basic right for everyone.