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Run on behalf of the tenants of two social housing associations in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, energywise is the first Low Carbon Network Fund project to specifically address the needs of fuel poor customers.
The innovative UK Power Networks project is pioneering ways for distribution network operators (DNOs) to work collaboratively with energy suppliers and local trusted intermediaries to deliver appropriate services to communities of low income households who may be struggling with their energy bills (identified as ‘fuel poor customers’ in UK, also known as ‘energy poor’ in other European countries).
The four-year project, which began in January 2014, explores the potential for smart meters, energy efficiency devices and a time-of-use electricity tariff to benefit a community in East London.
It is vital that all consumers (including hard-to-reach and vulnerable groups) can access smart meter benefits and energy efficiency measures and energywise is showing how that can best be done. Working with trusted third parties has been hugely successful for customer engagement, especially as many participants don’t have English as their first language.
Providing energy efficiency advice to communities is a new approach for DNOs which do not bill customers directly.
UK Power Networks proposed an innovative method of working collaboratively with an electricity supplier, British Gas, and local community representatives who regularly engage with fuel-poor customers, to enable households to get maximum benefit from energy saving initiatives.
The project is investigating:
- How DNOs can support the fuel poor community to manage their electricity usage and energy bills
- How DNOs can work with energy suppliers and locally trusted intermediaries (e.g. social landlords and community centres) to deliver energy saving campaigns and smart meter installations to the fuel poor
- The extent to which fuel poor consumers can reduce and/or shift their electricity demand and how this may help DNOs managing their networks using flexible alternatives
This is achieved through a recruitment and engagement strategy tailored to the specific needs of the target population and their demographics, with a dedicated customer field officer team established with local intelligence and language skills. The field officers, based in Tower Hamlets, are professionally trained in identifying vulnerability and in providing energy efficiency advice and play a key role in engaging hard-to-reach customers.
The recruitment campaign targeted 1,352 selected social housing tenants in Tower Hamlets from May 2015 to May 2016 resulting in:
- - 538 households signing up (40%);
- - 355 successful installations comprising 227 credit and 67 prepayment smart meters plus 61 monitoring devices;
- - A range of ‘thank you’ incentives and energy efficiency devices (including eco-kettle and three LED light bulbs) delivered to participating households, depending on their customer journey, valued at between £25-£170;
- - Two surveys conducted to understand the demographics of trial participants and contextualize their energy consumption
The recruitment campaign has provided invaluable insights on how to effectively engage with vulnerable and fuel poor customers in the roll-out of ‘smart’. In particular, a simple letter to introduce the campaign followed by face-to-face engagement from a professional team based in the local community proved very successful, accounting for 82% of participants sign-ups compared to other engagement methods.
The project’s first trial is close to completion and the impact on participants’ energy use is currently being assessed. The second trial will launch soon; this aims to understand households’ appetite to change their behaviour when on a ‘Time of Use’ electricity tariff, with favourable rates within specific time windows.
Participants’ feedback suggests that this community, once engaged through the appropriate channels, is willing and able to access the potential benefits of the smart meter roll-out:
Comments from energywise participants include:
- - "You can manage your budgets much better. I used to put £25 a week on my meter, now I put in £20 every other week. It's a big saving. The meter helps me to know where I'm at.”
- - “I think the new meters are good. I've heard the scare stories, but I wouldn't want to change it.”
- - “I’m on a pay as you go meter – it’s great to see on the energy display how much energy I’m using, and when I need to top up.”
- - “Seeing how much I was spending amazed me. Me and my son (who's 5) turn off all of the lights now. We never did that before.”
- - "The other day I was cooking a Sunday roast, the kettle was on, the washing machine was on - the display went up to the max, I realised how much it was using. I made the kids turn off the telly. I’m more conscious of switching things off.”
The project has demonstrated the UK’s fist end-to-end installation of residential smart sets operating across a tall building with difficult meter arrangements and has provided early insights into the management and commercial arrangement of such buildings between energy supplier, landlord and customer. It has also successfully installed smart meters with prepayment functionality outside British Gas’ testing environment.
This is particularly important for the fuel poor who are more likely to be on prepayment meters and living in tower blocks. Potential for replication: Similar projects could be replicated widely within energy poor communities throughout Europe. An estimated 11% of EU citizens experience energy poverty, whilst there are 4.5 million fuel poor households in the UK, of which a significant number are also vulnerable in some way. energywise has generated valuable insights on how best to engage with fuel poor customers on energy efficiency and on how to overcome smart meter technical limitations. These are relevant to all those seeking to engage vulnerable and hard-to-reach customers during smart meter roll-out and energy saving campaigns, including DNOs, energy suppliers and the smart meter Central Delivery Body.
They are also useful to those developing trials with vulnerable, low income and/or energy poor communities. energywise is building a better understanding of how DNOs and suppliers can work in partnership with social landlords and the third sector to best serve fuel poor and vulnerable communities. The project has informed more holistic partnership strategies for identifying and communicating with fuel poor customers and for linking energy saving activities with wider community initiatives. British DNOs and suppliers can utilise the energywise learning to develop more effective strategies for serving their communities.