Tackling fuel poverty is a national agenda for both the UK and the devolved Scottish governments. However, current policies are based on assumptions largely derived from urban settings. Furthermore, economies of scale have made energy efficiency schemes more attractive to deliver in large conurbations than in dispersed settlements, which characterise rural areas. Early research has indicated that this is disadvantaging households in rural Scotland, but more detailed data would clarify the position and enable more nuanced policy decisions.
Key research Question
The Spéird project aimed to test whether preliminary indications that energy consumption patterns differ between rural and urban Scottish households were valid and explain why that may be the case. In addition, by including island areas, it could explore whether variations existed within rural areas. By utilising common data sources to carry out this assessment, the study sought to determine whether a usable model can be developed that can be adopted by government and other stakeholders without requiring novel methods.
Summary of activity
Data were collected from households in four regions of Scotland: Aberdeenshire, Orkney, Skye and Lochaber, and Argyll and Bute. Quantitative data on energy usage and spend were collected and statistically analysed by variables such as property type and condition, income and number of occupants on the basis of demographic data obtained from the households. This utilised a survey framework adapted from an existing model developed by Orkney Council.
The qualitative arm of the research involved interviews with frontline staff in order to support the interpretation of quantitative data records. In addition, a focus group with residents in the Highlands region was carried out (The Highland Energy Behaviours Pilot Study).
The Spéird study confirmed the overall findings of a previous Scottish study, namely, that there is a statistically significant difference between rural and urban households when it comes to expenditure on domestic fuel. Complex energy use behaviours were detected among rural households. This means that accepted predictors of fuel use/fuel poverty have limitations that can obscure significant pockets of fuel poverty, particularly among low-income rural households.