Social dynamics and energy vulnerability
CSE was commissioned by the FLEXIS Social Sciences research team at Cardiff University to draw on our experiences of how changes in social relationships with individuals, families and communities can influence and address fuel poverty and other forms of energy vulnerability.
‘Energy vulnerability’ is the inability to secure (materially or socially) necessary levels of domestic energy services, like cooking or heating.
The FLEXIS Social Sciences research team developed a conceptual model which highlights that energy vulnerability shifts depending on changes in financial circumstances and wider social relationships. How people deal with these shifts can shape whether their difficulties get worse or are eased.
The aim of this research was to test and develop a greater understanding of whether approaching energy vulnerability as a dynamic condition – which individuals and households move into and out of over time – is a useful approach, and if this approach can help to identify useful interventions to end fuel poverty.
CSE drew on evidence from a variety of our projects where there had been change in social relationships, either with an individual or household, or in a community.
These projects included:
- Home Visits Plus – an intervention with individuals and families in which an energy advisor used a behaviour change approach and installed small energy efficiency measures
- Smart & Snug – an intervention where energy advisors had extended contact with a household and gave personalised energy advice based on sensor/energy data
- WHAM (Warm Homes Advice & Money) – an advice service with advisors acting as a single point of contact for clients to receive multiple specialist support, with a particular focus on work within health settings
- Energy in Schools – a school action research intervention, utilising smart devices, sensor/energy data and learning resources
- Powering Up – a community-focused programme that used community development interventions to cultivate community energy initiatives in deprived communities.
Across these projects a few of the key points that emerged about the role of social relationships in addressing energy vulnerability include that:
- A trusted ongoing relationship (without creating dependency) is instrumental in increasing the stability of an individual or family’s situation, building their confidence and capabilities.
- A holistic approach (additional advisor abilities or the advisor acting as a single point of contact) can deal effectively with the complex, interconnected factors which negatively affect a person’s ability to respond to their situation.
- Sharing data via visual feedback on energy consumption and temperature/humidity and the impact of behaviour changes increases client confidence, the uptake of energy advice, and may support further social engagement with landlords or contractors for energy improvements.
- Within schools, established roles and responsibilities and a range of systemic factors (e.g. policy, building fabric and technology) can inhibit action to reduce and manage energy use.
- In deprived communities a supportive relationship can facilitate community leadership on energy issues by those already active in other ways.
The analysis found that approaching energy vulnerability as a dynamic condition is a useful approach, and suggested ways to potentially improve the model. It highlighted possible areas for further investigation for interventions to tackle fuel poverty and energy vulnerability.
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