Smart energy for all

Just over a month ago, Smart Energy GB published a consultation paper as part of its work to support the roll-out of smart meters in an inclusive and engaging manner.

In ‘Smart energy for all’, Smart Energy GB set out what it has learned from research about the potential difficulties which might challenge the programme amongst some sections of the population, and what it does not know and where it would welcome more evidence.

The consultation paper is thorough and comprehensive. The point is that here we have, within the next five years, the opportunity to really change the way the British public thinks about and uses energy, and we ought to get it right from the start.

What about older people 

Older households make up a third of the national total. We know that older households see advantages in understanding more about their energy use, so that they can use it with confidence to keep adequately warm, without worrying about unwelcome and unexpected bills.

The end of estimated bills, and the ending of meter readers’ visits, will be applauded.   But can the simple process of installing a new meter and a domestic meter display unit help older people to take maximum advantage from the new technology?   Continue reading “Smart energy for all”

The shame of excess winter deaths

This morning the Office for National Statistics announced that there were 31,100 excess winter deaths last winter.

To say this is a national shame (as we have done) is both a cliché and also absolutely true.

Excess winter deaths – or the additional deaths during the winter months when compared to the rest of the year – are entirely preventable.

We know this because other countries with much harsher winters – such as the Scandinavian countries – have significantly fewer excess winter deaths.440x210_Snow-in-Shepton-Mal

Yet in the UK the numbers remain stubbornly high. Today’s figures show a 29% rise on the previous year and represent a four year high.

We all know that last winter was cold and long, but the figures are still unacceptable. That older people’s lives are still at the mercy of the weather in the twenty-first century is something we should rightly be ashamed of. Continue reading “The shame of excess winter deaths”

Green Deal performance data

Ahead of publishing the June Green Deal statistics, which the Department obviously knew were woefully disappointing, it went into overdrive to set out positive aspects of the scheme. It published data showing that energy efficient housing commanded a premium price over unimproved homes.  It released opinion survey data reporting rising awareness and rising interest in the Green Deal. But the tangible performance record is desperately poor. Age UK is not finger-pointing and dancing for joy:  the Green Deal and associated ECO (Energy Company Obligation) is the only show currently in town, and thus in the drive to address fuel poverty, and it needs to work – dramatically.

The ECO part, where energy companies install free or subsidised measures, is440x210_handyvan1 the closest we get to a silver lining. There were nearly 82,000 measures installed in the four months to April. The percentage of these going to low income households (those qualifying for the Affordable Warmth or Carbon Saving Communities) was nearly 70% (or about 170,000 per year if aggregated upwards), and most of the measures were loft insulation (56%), hard-to-treat cavity wall insulation (33%) and replacement boilers (10%). This installation performance suggests that households were not getting the comprehensive makeover which would make them ‘fuel-poverty-proof’, and barely dents the fuel poverty headcount of about 6m households in the UK. Continue reading “Green Deal performance data”

Cold homes, fuel poverty and healthy lives

It may be measured in baby steps, but at last the Department of Health (DH) is acknowledging the importance of cold homes, and living in fuel poverty, to the health debate.

Age UK’s lobbying and campaigning on fuel poverty issues is strongly grounded on the health implications – the ill-health arising from not keeping adequately warm, measured both in terms of human suffering and costs to the NHS – so this engagement by the DH is a significant advance.  Two short reports from Age UK have looked at recent public health initiatives to assess their impact.

aOne is concerned with the Warm Homes Healthy People programme.  This was announced as a ‘one-off’ in 2011, then repeated in 2012.

It was a £20m prize pot to which local authorities were invited to bid, provided their proposals were to address ‘winter pressures’, and provided they were doing so in partnership with the local voluntary and community groups.

It stimulated a remarkable range of varied activities, from clearing snow and going shopping in adverse weather, to providing hot meals and issuing ‘winter survival packs’, to checking electric blankets and checking benefit entitlements.

It drove a wave of local, community activity, and local Age UK partners were substantially involved. This report looks at their experience of the project, and it is overwhelmingly supportive. Continue reading “Cold homes, fuel poverty and healthy lives”

Fuel poverty statistics

The latest annual report from the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) covers the year 2011 – many energy price hikes and policy changes ago.   The headline is that in England, the numbers of households in fuel poverty fell, from 3.3m in 2010 to 3.2m (and in the UK from 4.75m to 4.5m).   These are the households which need to spend 10% or more of their income on energy to keep adequately warm, a definition we have all become accustomed to using.   But DECC’s report has turned into a statistical soup, as it struggles to introduce a new definition of fuel poverty (which measures two different things), and reports anyway on a year long forgotten.

200x160_gas_hob_g_mainFor what it’s worth, 2011 was mild (for both the winter months at the beginning and end), and this led to a fall in national domestic energy consumption.   It was also the last year when the (now abolished) Warm Front programme was operating at full speed – the tax-funded grant programme targeted on low income households – so energy efficiency improvements were driving forward alongside the schemes offered by the energy supply companies to save energy.

Continue reading “Fuel poverty statistics”

Keeping warm, whatever the price, whatever the weather

200x100-women-warm-indoors

I am beginning to think that winter is never going to end. By now we should have mild March breezes, sunshine and showers – and daffodils. But instead we’re facing icy winds from the East and 10-foot snowdrifts.

But of course, that’s the British weather. With all our technology, we can just about predict it, but we certainly can’t control it.

At the end of a long cold winter, we are also facing steeply-rising energy prices. The Office for Budget Responsibility this week predicted a 7% rise in energy costs this year, and a 3% rise next year. Continue reading “Keeping warm, whatever the price, whatever the weather”

Guest blog – Energy Bill Revolution

This blog was contributed by Ed Matthew, Director of the Energy Bill Revolution. 

The recent prediction from the energy regulator OFGEM that energy bills are likely to rise as the UK becomes more dependent on gas is more bad news for British households facing ever mounting financial pressure.

The average dual fuel energy bill now costs a household over £1,400 each year. As the energy bills bite, fuel poverty is now rocketing out of control, affecting 1 in 4 families in the UK. A fuel poverty crisis is unfolding before our eyes.

Behind these figures lies a real human tragedy. Thousands of older people die from the cold every year and in extreme cases people are left with the stark 220x220_woman_adjusting_thermostatchoice of whether to feed their family or heat their home. Many of those most affected are the most vulnerable, older people, the disabled and young children.

The reaction of the Government to this crisis is lamentable. Despite their protestations that they are doing all they can to help the figures speak for themselves. They have cut spending on the fuel poor by 26% and slashed funding for energy efficiency measures for the fuel poor by 44%.  This is despite the fact that experts recognise by far the best long term solution to fuel poverty is to super insulate the UK housing stock.  The result is that fuel poverty is getting worse and by 2016 there could be up to 9 million households in fuel poverty. Continue reading “Guest blog – Energy Bill Revolution”