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Fuel Poverty and the Re-emergence of Wood as a Sustainable Source of Energy in Fife, Scotland and Beyond

University of St Andrews
Date: 2012


The growth of fuel poverty has in part been driven by rising energy bills. Alternative fuel sources may provide cheaper and more sustainable options, potentially alleviating fuel poverty. Rural households can face extra challenges in obtaining and paying for mainstream fuel types in comparison with their urban equivalents but may also have particular advantages when it comes to accessing alternative fuel sources.

Key research Question

Is wood biofuel a feasible alternative source of household energy that can help address fuel poverty, particularly where mainstream sources are not available or expensive to supply? What barriers to its wider adoption exist, and how might they be addressed?

Summary of activity

The dissertation includes a review of policy measures aimed at promoting wood biofuel, followed by a more comprehensive literature review of the topic. A structured questionnaire was completed by 100 randomly selected residents of the Fife region of Scotland, as well as a series of semi-structured interviews with key stakeholders. Several statistical methods were utilised to explore the questionnaire data (e.g. logistic regression analysis).


The analysis of the resident questionnaires indicated that the main motives for switching to a different energy source were cost and convenience. However, peopleā€™s perceptions and concerns about wood fuel heating systems were identified as impediments to the wider acceptance and take-up of this technology, specifically, the availability of the resource and maintenance of the appropriate equipment. Only 1 in 10 residents, it was found, would switch to a different type of heating if it was promoted by government.

In general, respondents possessed only a limited awareness of fuel poverty and often did not monitor their own energy expenditure, which potentially reduced their incentive to try alternative sources.

Stakeholders thought that while in theory wood biofuel was a feasible alternative fuel and could play an important role in alleviating fuel poverty, major obstacles remained to its development. These included the cost of burners, which are expensive up front, even if they prove cost-effective in the long run; the lack of enthusiasm among landowners to develop a supply; and the shortage of expertise in installing appropriate heating systems.


  • Financial investment is needed to make renewable energy systems available at cheaper prices in order to encourage their wider take-up. Support for wood fuel power stations would help stimulate demand and reduce prices.
  • Better coordination of information between potential suppliers of wood biofuel and potential customers is needed to help address misconceptions about viability on both sides.
  • Better monitoring of household energy consumption through measures such as smart meters would create more awareness among residents of their expenditure and fuel poverty.

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