Fair Futures: Innovating to End Fuel Poverty

Conventional approaches to ‘protecting’ the fuel poor have focused on the needs of the energy system, not those of the consumer, with interventions rooted in regulation and policy, rarely tapping into innovation.

Fair Futures explores the opportunities for innovation to address fuel poverty, and better understand the issues faced by vulnerable energy consumer groups in the UK.

The Fuel Poverty Challenge and Opportunity

Fuel poverty is no single organisation’s responsibility, so the response is often fragmented and ineffective. Many people in the UK struggle to get access to the cheapest energy prices, afford the most efficient technology or know what is the best way to use the energy they buy.

Most interventions to aid households in fuel poverty come from UK government regulation and policy. Yet innovation can provide important and additional options to better understand what people need and want from energy in their homes, and how the difficulties that low income households face, are exaggerated by the high cost of adequate energy and heating systems in their homes.

Poised between government, industry and academia, Energy Systems Catapult is uniquely placed and motivated to facilitate conversations as an impartial, independent convener with knowledge of the energy sector and vulnerable energy consumers.

Our Approach to Energy Innovation

Fair Futures focuses on how innovation can be used to better understand the issues faced by vulnerable energy consumers and to identify the areas where commercial, governmental, community and household living needs and motivations could be aligned to provide more effective policies, products and services.

In order to understand how to design and deliver services to consumers facing difficulties with low household incomes and the high cost of adequate energy in their homes, Energy Systems Catapult is trying to better understand what people need and want from energy in their home.

With greater insight of vulnerable customers’ needs and challenges, organisations will be able to explore the opportunities for innovation that enable people to access the energy they want and develop new products and services.

This could decrease the risk of undertaking innovation, for both businesses and consumers, and could be applied to developing new propositions, improving customer handling procedures and meeting new policy obligations and changes.

Fair Futures: Our Work

Fair Futures commission work on wide ranging projects, including:

  • Research commissioned by Citizens Advice, focusing on the potential risks of a smart energy future and the protections that need to be considered. Smarter protections: Potential risks for consumers in a smart energy future – explores the consumer issues through a short six week activity of desk based research, a workshop between Citizens Advice and Energy Systems Catapult and some feedback from industry and policy stakeholders in the sector. This document summarises the key findings from these activities.

The 10 consumer risks identified span across consumer experiences. Smarter protections: Using field trials to explore how people understand energy as a service – focuses on some of the 10 specific risk areas identified in the first report. It reports on findings from studying consumers’ real experiences trialing an innovative energy service in the Energy Systems Catapult’s ‘Living Lab’. Find more information on the Smart Systems and Heat programme.

  • Fair Futures: A Welsh Government commissioned consortium project led by Cardiff University – aims to identify how common factors experienced by a number of households, now and in the future can lead to fuel poverty.

Working with experts and households, the project will also help to create and test innovations to address issues of vulnerability in a future low carbon energy system. The project is led by the Understanding Risk group at Cardiff University, which brings together staff from the Schools of Psychology and Social Sciences, working with Energy Systems Catapult.

  • The Fair Energy Futures Bootcamp – the first of its kind to be held in Britain, aimed to harness the powers of collaborative working and creativity to look at what might be achieved.

From this, we have developed a free online tool, Lets Beta Fuel Poverty, which ‘scores’ potential innovations on how they will impact consumers living with fuel poverty. The tool uses a collaboratively devised set of measures by experts from small and large energy suppliers, housing associations, consumer advocacy agencies, distribution network operators, academics, local government and fuel poverty charities.

From lowering energy bills to ensuring warm homes for children, young people and their families, innovation is needed in the UK energy system.

If you’d like to be involved in ensuring the future energy system works for everyone through new policies, products, services and strategies please get in touch with us.