Blog: New thinking needed to tackle fuel poverty

Richard Jennings

Richard Jennings

Castle Rock Edinvar’s Richard Jennings asks how do we innovate to solve the problem of too many people living in cold homes?

There is a genuine public benefit to ensuring that everybody lives in a warm home. Health research shows that thousands of premature deaths are caused by living in cold and damp conditions. Poor health, from asthma to mental health, is impacted by the quality of the home environment, with heat a key factor.

Maintaining the fabric of our homes is made easier by effective heating and ventilation of our buildings. We know that affordability has a big impact on an individual’s ability to heat their home properly and the most vulnerable are at the highest risk. Does all of this add up to it being a public sector problem?

Our energy markets are competitive and deregulated, if not perfect. Regulating this sector is a complex matter and there are significant barriers to entry for new firms. The low cost energy provider Our Power, which operates on a non-profit distribution basis, is one of the few examples of a collaborative organisation that has the vision and leadership to take on the challenge.

Heating systems are becoming more efficient and cheaper to install and run. Insulation measures and new windows and doors all provide additional benefits, particularly for those in social housing where the bar is set high. However, the problem still remains and there are too many people living in cold homes, having to make the decision not to turn on the boiler and in some cases totally disconnecting from the network.

How do we innovate to solve this problem and is there a commercial solution we need to explore? Let’s start with a proposition that every social rented home should be heated to a standard 12 degrees. Setting this as the baseline means that no one will freeze and the additional cost of an extra degree is more affordable. This will ensure that there is a level of protection against dampness and building decay and it forms a platform for tackling poor health.

In our EastHeat project we harnessed solar PV to charge heat batteries that can pre-heat the water going in to a gas boiler, reducing the energy demand for heating and hot water. This time ‘bridge’ between local renewable sources of energy generation, or periods of peak generation on the grid and when we actually need the heat could hold the key to a commercial solution. Smart technology that charges heat stores when energy costs are at their lowest, or when renewable sources are generating energy, will also reduce our carbon footprint through more efficient use of existing power sources.

  • Richard Jennings is managing director at Castle Rock Edinvar