I’m going to start by being controversial and question many current approaches to tackling fuel or energy poverty. A number of these approaches provide A-rated solutions into C rated homes occupied by G-rated residents.
Quite a statement.
Let me explain. We understand that the homes we have built over the last 100 years or so are not as energy efficient as they should be, homes were built to give people shelter, to provide more living space, to include inside toilets (a big problem in the West of Scotland where I grew up), provide fresh, clean drinking water and so on. However, it has only been recent that we have started to take interest in how much the home costs to run and how much energy it uses.
The majority of our current housing stock has an energy rating of C or D meaning its efficiency could be improved greatly and many of our energy efficiency and fuel poverty programmes in the UK work hard to do that. We provide some state of the art solutions, in fact, A rated solutions; we provide air and ground source heat pumps, heat recovery systems that recycle warm air around the home.
We even go as far as over cladding homes, sealing them up making them more airtight sealing in the moisture. Then having made these interventions we somehow expect that intuitively people living in those homes will know how to work them, know by some glance through an instruction booklet written in best double Dutch or Martian how to set and control the system. I think not.
If we want people to live in a healthy home environment then we need to give them the skills to do so and that means advising on behavioural change. Turning the heating down and not opening the window, controlling the heat from the source at the boiler and not adding large amounts of cold water just so you can put your hand in the sink of hot water to wash the dishes.
The Scottish Government recently brought together two high-level advisory groups on fuel poverty and unsurprisingly both groups concluded that fuel poverty is actually fairly complex and while there are three agreed and recognised parts to the fuel poverty equation there is now actually a fourth part just as important as the others.
That fourth part is behaviour and behavioural change. To deliver against fuel poverty and energy efficiency targets the householder needs to be central to any improvement or change, they need to understand what is being done to improve their home and they, in turn, need to know how to respond to those changes. Behaviour change is key to any solution we care to offer up.