Using Solar PV to Tackle Fuel Poverty

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Date: 2014
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Rationale

The use of photovoltaic (PV) systems in domestic properties boomed after the introduction of the Feed-in Tariff (FIT) in 2010. The deployment of solar technologies should see a decline in energy users’ fuel costs (and thus fuel poverty), while property owners (including landlords) should benefit from the income generated by the FIT. The wider context of rising fuel poverty acts as a spur to implement the energy efficiency measures with the greatest impact on consumption.

There has been a concerted drive within the social housing sector to improve the energy efficiency of the housing stock through a variety of methods. The number of properties offers significant scope for large-scale installation of PV schemes but, while measures such as insulation and new boilers have been popular, PV systems and other microgeneration options have proved less attractive, partly for cost reasons. They have the potential to deliver a greater impact on fuel poverty; however, to date only limited research has been carried out to assess the actual benefits of completed PV schemes and ascertain whether the prospective opportunities are being fully realised.





Key research Question

Given the limited data on the impact of PV schemes, what savings, if any, are being achieved for tenants? Are there identifiable barriers to the optimum use of such schemes, and, if so, how might they be mitigated?



Summary of activity

To provide quantitative data, statistical assessments of tenants’ bills before and after installation were made to calculate any changes. In addition, and drawing on quantitative and qualitative data, the researchers completed a survey of 122 social housing tenants in the UK (using energy diaries, telephone interviews and questionnaires) and 15 social landlords, as well as a phase of action research undertaken with seven social housing organisations (case studies).





Findings

The installation of PV systems in social housing did produce financial savings: on average, £90 per household. The success of PV systems was highly dependent on the knowledge and behaviour of the tenants themselves, and their impact cannot therefore be considered as purely a matter of technological capacity. PV systems fulfil a valuable role because their operation reduces electricity use, whereas many energy efficiency measures focus on heating use. The impact of microgeneration schemes (including PV) is often hard to detect in terms of both consumption/export and the influence on household members. They are rarely subjected to monitoring and evaluation, and technical data are patchy or absent.



Recommendations

  • Social landlords should install export meters to accurately assess the savings made by PV systems; likewise, energy suppliers should collect better data on usage.
  • In order to maximise the benefits of such systems, social landlords should provide adequate guidance to their tenants on operating them, using the communication tools at their disposal.
  • On a national level, enhanced monitoring and evaluation of PV installation is needed (and could be required as a condition of public funding).
  • Assumptions about the amount of power exported to the grid should be revisited, as social landlords may be losing out financially.


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