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‘Fuel proofing’ for the UK’s vulnerable homes

ImageInsulation, wind turbine or micro CHP? A new computer model that weighs up the energy-saving options looks set to help the scourge of fuel poverty

Here is a quick sum you can do. Consider what you are spending this year on gas, electricity and any other fuel you use in your home. Then compare that sum with your total disposable income. And my bet is that the calculation will be well below 5%.

To be officially deemed to be in fuel poverty is to have that calculation come out at 10%. Or more. And there are a growing number of households who fall into that category. Last year, there were almost half a million more who met this sad qualification than in 2004.

This is despite increases in the allocations made by government to the EAGA Partnership to carry out improvement works in low-income homes across the UK. But because wholesale fuel prices have soared, some of these increases – but by no means all – have been carried over into retail prices.

It is increasingly recognised that, to get households out of fuel poverty, it is as important to improve the housing stock, as it is to provide income supplements. Relying upon the latter was memorably described by the Prime Minister as trying to fill a bath with hot water without putting the plug in.

In 2000 the Warm Homes & Energy Conservation Act made the government statutorily responsible for the abolition of fuel poverty in all vulnerable homes by 2011, and in all other homes (e.g. of students) by 2016.

The United Kingdom has been divided up into seven areas for fuel poverty purposes. England makes up four regions, plus each of the devolved administrations. EAGA Partnership has won the contracts to administer the official fuel poverty energy improvement programmes in all seven regions.

Because it is a co-operative, EAGA recycles its surpluses into entities like its own charitable trust. It was acutely conscious of the background of rising fuel prices. It was also anxious to ensure that it allocated the public funds it administers in the most cost-effective way.

So the charitable trust commissioned the research wing of my own Association, to create a tool which indicates which energy saving measures can most effectively “fuel proof” a whole variety of different types of homes. The result is the creation of “Fuel Prophet”, a deliberately punning name to describe a mechanism which covers17 different home types: these vary from the standard 3 bedroom 1930s semi in the east Midlands – upon which most energy saving calculations seem to be based – to the far more intractable problems of old farm workers’ cottages, down a lane and way off the gas network.

The overall aim is to optimise the balance between the cost of installing refurbishment measures and reducing fuel costs to the occupier – thereby allowing that household to escape from fuel poverty.

The model uses a whole variety of different fuel price scenarios, both for now and into the future. Over twenty separate energy saving measures, in a whole variety of combinations, are incorporated within the tool.

These measures range from tried and trusted artefacts like condensing boilers, and various types of insulants and other fabric improvements. But they also include a whole range of nascent technologies such as microCHP, ground source heat pumps, photovoltaics and micro wind turbines.

Parameters such as budget and funding availability can be set, and measures can be ranked by a whole variety of indicators. The different groups of potential measures can be sorted by least initial cost, least amortised cost, with calculations that cover direct fuel bill savings, payback periods, and overall cost-effectiveness (Net Present value). The idea is that “Fuel Prophet” will for the first time provide a means of revealing, then establishing, the most financially appropriate means to “fuel proof” the household.

In essence, “Fuel Prophet” is intended to help the decision maker – in particular, housing professionals, strategic asset managers and maintenance staff – to choose which combination of refurbishment measures work best for the homes they administer.

The charitable trust has deliberately taken the altruistic step of placing the entire “Fuel Prophet” tool in the public domain. It has encouraged debate about the tool at all appropriate fora. This is intended to disseminate the contents as widely as possible, to try to ensure that any sums invested in improving such homes are spent rationally. It is also to reduce the effectiveness of the hype of the super-salesmen of dubious technologies.

The current tool will almost certainly need to be refined, drawing upon further practical experience. It can yet be developed to provide additional information like the home’s SAP rating, and the kilowatt-hours and carbon dioxide being saved.

“Fuel Prophet” has been created to try to ensure that any sums invested in improving homes in fuel poverty are expended as judiciously as possible. The continuing existence of such homes seriously distorts climate change policy in the residential sector: witness the reluctance of politicians to impose a Climate Change levy or full rate VAT on any home-occupiers at all.

And, lest we forget, the fact that millions of households still struggle to keep warm in winter is a continuing, and wholly unacceptable, social blight.

We can be certain that “Fuel Prophet” will help to alleviate that.

Download Fuel Prophet on: www.ukace.org/research/fuelprophet


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