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A study of fuel poverty and low-carbon synergies in social housing

Description

This socio-technical pilot involved qualitative interviews with social housing tenants, combined with basic energy modelling of the individual dwellings to estimate the carbon emissions of that house. The study aimed to investigate the relationship between fuel poverty and carbon-saving synergies in the UK domestic housing stock. Fuel poverty, the circumstance where a household spends more than 10% of its income on energy bills, is predicted as being 21% of the entire domestic stock. The fuel poor behaviours described in this study, including frugality and rationing of energy use, may become more common, and even be seen as the “norm”. If domestic energy bills increase with predictions, the number of fuel poor households will continue to rise. It is likely that their practices will become more diverse. This diversity is important as it will affect not only the choice of measures for reducing energy consumption but also the likely post-measure “rebound effect”, where a perceived energy saving might not be achieved as households increase their energy use directly, or indirectly, as a result of having lower energy bills. The study found that “electricity as entertainment” is very apparent in low-income homes, particularly those with children. This can have a significant impact on the household’s fuel poverty status. It is important not to discount this effect as the choices for reducing fuel poverty may not only be related to building refurbishment. This study concludes that lack of energy inefficiency is not the main driver of fuel poverty in the UK. Small changes in the efficiency of the UK stock have had minimal impact on fuel poverty numbers because this is driven by gas prices. But if large-scale changes were made to such homes then it may be possible to ameliorate the effect of rising fuel prices, though without eliminating fuel poverty altogether. The work ascertained that the fuel poor do not recognise themselves as living ‘low-carbon lifestyles’ but it seems likely that they do from the frugal responses that our sample display. Helping those in fuel poverty to recognise this, and rewarding this through policy, could be a positive way of encouraging continued action If a substantial impact to both fuel poverty and domestic carbon emissions is to be made, large-scale changes to buildings are necessary. Existing energy behaviour, energy frugality (as governed by income) and the response of the occupant to any potential energy-saving improvement will not be universal across the stock. Given the fuel poverty context, the authors suggest that the proposed 2011 Energy Act Green Deal is not suitably structured for achieving large-scale reductions in fuel poverty and domestic carbon emissions. The provision intends to provide loans of up to £6.500 to eliminate the need to pay upfront for energy efficiency measures. The cost of repayment should be covered by electricity bill savings. If large-scale measures are needed to have a genuine, and long lasting, effect, then £6,500 per home is not likely to be sufficient for fuel poor social housing tenants to rise out of fuel poverty. It is currently unclear whether the Energy Company Obligation (ECO) will be sufficient to compensate for any of the weaknesses of the Green Deal when applied to fuel poor homes. ECO will place one or more obligations on energy companies requiring them to facilitate the installation of energy efficiency measures in homes.