Finding innovative solutions to fuel poverty

A team at Cardiff University is working to address the issue of fuel poverty in Wales.

The Understanding Risk group, which brings together staff from the Schools of Psychology and Social Sciences, is leading Fair Futures, a Welsh Government commissioned project, with the Energy Systems Catapult as partner.

The scheme aims to identify the common factors experienced by people, now and in the future, which can lead to fuel poverty. Findings from the research will help policymakers and energy suppliers to formulate strategies to better support vulnerable households, including the use of new technologies where these may be helpful.

Researchers are initially focusing on homes in Caerau, Bridgend, interviewing residents to find out more about their experiences of managing the costs of gas and electricity. Over the next few months, they will be analysing results, with the findings being released early next year.

Dr Christopher Groves, of the School of Social Sciences, said: “Fuel poverty is a problem faced by many families in Wales and indeed, the UK. Our research will provide tangible evidence to show the many and varied reasons as to why people can struggle to pay for such a vital resource. It will also provide information to show what people really want and need from the energy they buy.”

Innovation is seen as an important tool in addressing fuel poverty. Many people in the UK struggle to get access to the cheapest energy, afford the most efficient technology or understand what is the best way to use the energy they buy.

“As specialists in social science methods, we believe it is important to get up close to people’s experiences of everyday difficulties, to understand in great depth and detail problems people have - such as with paying their bills and generally managing to get by in changing times. People will of course not always talk freely about difficulties they may be experiencing. However, given the extent of fuel poverty, these are not something we can choose to ignore”, observed Professor Karen Henwood, of the School of Social Sciences.

Phil New, CEO at Energy Systems Catapult, which supports the use of innovation in developing clean energy solutions, said: “The ability to access heat to stay warm, heat food and keep clean should be a basic human right that is available to all of us, yet a significant proportion of society are still considered to be ‘fuel poor’.

“Digitalisation and decarbonisation is transforming the energy system, and there is no doubt of the huge potential for innovation to improve the lives of those in fuel poverty.”

Lesley Griffiths AM, Cabinet Secretary for Energy, Planning and Rural Affairs at the Welsh Government, said: “We have invested over 240m in fuel poverty programmes since 2011 and it is important to ensure vulnerable households are able to grasp opportunities arising from the new smart agenda in energy as well as wider associated activities such as health and transport.”