To date, government initiatives aimed at tackling rising levels of fuel poverty have largely focused on managing household demand by reducing consumption through improving the energy performance of domestic properties (e.g. grants for insulation) or offsetting costs (e.g. Winter Fuel Payments). Less attention has been paid to how household power generation can play a part in addressing the issue.
The role of microgeneration technologies has not featured prominently, and their adoption remains at an early stage. The introduction of incentive schemes (Renewable Heat Incentive [RHI], Feed-in Tariff) aimed at increasing the uptake of microgeneration in the UK provides an opportunity to assess how such technologies may be able to improve this situation through lower consumption, increased energy efficiency and the resale of power. A number of different technical approaches are available, and an understanding of which are the most effective will be valuable in tackling fuel poverty.
Key research Question
By using a series of performance measures (e.g. initial cost, system performance, amount of resaleable energy produced), the costs and benefits of three different types of microgeneration technology (solar photovoltaic systems, ground source heat pumps and solar thermal hot water systems) in domestic properties can be compared and their relative value in addressing fuel poverty can be determined.
Summary of activity
The study selected three case studies in South Yorkshire and the West Midlands (England). These encompassed over 60 individual properties of different types. A literature review of previous research on microgeneration technologies was completed. A review and summary of in situ studies of microgeneration technologies in the UK was also included. A series of 35 semi-structured interviews with residents of domestic properties in the case study areas was carried out. Statistical data were also collected on energy consumption, and modelling of cost-effectiveness under a variety of future scenarios was completed, utilising consumption data and inputs from predictions of resale, future fuel prices and government subsidies.
Of the three technologies, ground source heat pumps were found to be the most effective at alleviating fuel poverty. This conclusion was based on net savings, superior performance and predicted offsets of installation costs via the RHI, which was scheduled to be introduced for domestic properties in 2012.
However, the effectiveness depended on the correct installation, functioning, design and aftercare maintenance of the respective devices, as well as the quality of operational guidance provided to householders. Shortcomings in any of these areas negatively affected the benefits.
The installation of microgeneration systems can have a positive impact on householders’ knowledge and behaviour with regard to climate change, energy use and sustainability issues in general, which has the potential to reduce demand further.