Many low-income households are also in fuel poverty and fuel debt. They can often face the conundrum of needing to reduce the amount they spend on domestic energy while at the same time being unable to afford the cost of installations that would potentially achieve the necessary savings. However, if funding to carry out such work can be justified, this challenge may be overcome.
An earlier stage of the Billsavers project collected baseline measurements of electricity use by installing individual meters on existing appliances and lighting in 100 households. The analysis of this data demonstrated that the cost of use did reach a threshold that would offset the expense attached to purchasing new equipment.
Key research Question
The aim of the second stage was to monitor electricity use following the installation of new, more efficient appliances and lighting to prove or disprove the hypothesis that the initial capital outlay on energy-efficient appliances and lighting would be recouped in the financial savings gained by lower consumption, therefore providing evidence on whether such interventions could be recommended as worthwhile investments for low-income households.
Summary of activity
A total of 81 households participated fully in the study. Households were recruited across three areas of Lothian and Edinburgh (Wester Hailes/Sighthill, Niddrie/Craigmillar and Pilton/Muirhouse). The sample was divided into different groups, with each group trialling a different mix of installations (comprising new lighting and appliances) and every household receiving energy advice relevant to their equipment. Households were asked to keep an energy diary recording their use of electrical items.
The data confirmed that financing a replacement programme was economically justifiable. While installing new lights, fridges and freezers proved cost-effective, replacing other appliances, such as washing machines, showed little benefit. It was calculated that it would be cost-effective to replace 1300 cold appliances in the study areas. However, repairing existing appliances was not economically viable. Behavioural factors were identified as crucial influences on the potential for savings, but energy advice did not materially affect this. Possible reasons identified for this included apathy/resistance to change, competing demands and inability to maximise the potential of new devices (e.g. insufficient income to purchase enough food to fill the freezer).
The report recommended that future projects addressing fuel poverty in low-income households must consider carefully which lights and appliances can be replaced in order to make the work cost-effective.