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Smart energy action plans – a pilot

An elderly lady and her grandson look at the screen of an open laptop

As our energy system becomes greener and smarter, it is also becoming more complex and difficult to navigate for vulnerable customers.

To reach net zero targets, our energy system needs to become smarter and more flexible to accommodate high volumes of renewable energy.

But getting there requires significant and disruptive change: new services, new tariffs, new kit. This change brings completely new ways to generate unfairness by radically altering the distribution of system costs and benefits between consumers. An example might be a tariff that provides cheaper electricity to households with an electric vehicle and an understanding of smart-energy tech than it does to a low-income elderly person who has neither.

It threatens to leave behind large numbers of people as new complexities or costs exclude them from meaningful participation in our future energy system.

Make sure no one gets left behind

To combat this development, CSE was funded by National Grid Electricity Distribution to pilot the delivery of tailored advice for vulnerable customers to help ensure they are not excluded.

Central to this effort is a series of ‘smart energy action plans’. These have been based on our learnings from the Smart & Fair research programme, which identify a set of core “capabilities” that a consumer may possess. A capability is something like having a smart meter, digital skills and access, or understanding the principles of shifting usage away from peak periods, or a basic knowledge of low carbon tech.

The smart energy action plans will develop these capabilities in our customers so they are better able to participate in a smarter energy system.

Weigh up the risks and benefits

In particular, we provide independent advice on the smart offers and low carbon technologies that are most appropriate for a vulnerable user. This advice is based on their capabilities, needs and priorities. Some of the offers we advise on are small, like smart plugs, smart heating controls and time-of-use tariffs. Others are more expensive undertakings with long pay-back terms, for example solar panels, heat pumps and batteries.

Our advice looks at these offers in terms of:

The pilot project seeks to:

A critical need for impartial, reliable and high-quality advice

Karn Shah is managing this pilot project for CSE. He says, “The range of smart energy offers on the market and the ways that products, services and tariffs interact with each other can be bewildering for many customers. There is a critical need for impartial, reliable and high-quality advice so that they are not excluded.

“Through this pilot we are exploring how energy advice organisations such as CSE can meet this challenge and ensure no-one gets left behind in the smart energy transition.”

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