Utility Week Live explores… An energy transition for all?

Decarbonising the economy should benefit everyone in society, not just people who can afford it, as Farina Farrier of UK Power Networks explains.

Farina, social sustainability strategy and programme manager at UK Power Networks, says a just energy transition is “about prioritising people and fairness as we make the shift to a smarter, more flexible energy system”.

She says people should come first as we make the journey toward a smarter, more efficient energy system. “We’re mindful that as we embrace new technologies and methods, some people may get left behind. So, it’s crucial for us to stay tuned in to any barriers or challenges people might face and play a key role in proactively supporting them so they have a fair shot at enjoying the benefits that come with the transition.”

Utility Week sat down with Farina to find out more ahead of Utility Week Live.


Farina, we often focus on technology, policy and targets when it comes to decarbonisation of the economy, but what role are vulnerable people playing?

FF: When we talk about decarbonising our economy, it’s easy to get caught up in the technical aspects and big-picture goals. But let’s not forget about the people who are most vulnerable in this transition. Our research, backed by the leading Socially Green identification tool, paints a stark picture: without adequate support, a staggering 1.58 million households in our region alone risk being left behind by 2030.

That’s nearly 20% of our customer base!

These are real people with real concerns, and it’s our responsibility to ensure they’re not overlooked and are their needs are factored in from the get-go. We’re talking about families who might struggle to afford the latest green, energy-saving technologies like an electric vehicle or a heat pump, or individuals who face barriers to accessing digital resources like apps. Our role is clear: we need to be proactive in identifying and addressing these challenges, offering tailored support and interventions to ensure everyone can participate in and benefit from the transition to a greener economy.

What does it mean to be socially sustainable?

Being socially sustainable for UK Power Networks means more than just meeting basic needs; it’s about embracing a holistic approach that supports our communities every step of the way.

Over RIIO-ED2, we’re providing information and assistance to 500,000 vulnerable customers to ensure no one is left behind in the changing energy system. By doing so, we’re not only addressing disadvantage and inequality, but also ensuring that our customers are equipped to embrace the transition to net zero. This ensures that we recognise diversity within our customer base, enhance social cohesion, and improve the quality of life for individuals in our communities.

A key part of our ED2 strategy is to adopt and embed “social sustainability by design” across all parts of our business including customer service, stakeholder engagement, digital strategy, workforce resilience, and innovation.

What role can digital and data play in assisting vulnerable customers?

Digital and data are fundamental in assisting vulnerable customers, offering us a deeper understanding of their barriers and challenges. At UK Power Networks, we harness cutting-edge technologies and data-driven insights to tailor our support to the specific needs of vulnerable customers. For instance, our Socially Green tool aggregates data from 43 socio-economic datasets, providing invaluable insights into the diverse challenges faced by different communities.

Additionally, our Spotlight tool uses machine learning to analyse household-level data, helping us better identify households in need of support and tailor interventions accordingly. Furthermore, digital innovations improve accessibility for vulnerable customers. Take, for example, our Green Home Support service, which now also offers an online self-service option, allowing customers to access support more independently at any time of the day or night.

Moreover, for those who prefer traditional methods, we still provide the option to complete the process with the assistance of a call agent over the phone. By embracing digital and data-driven solutions, we ensure that vulnerable customers have equitable access to support and assistance, ultimately empowering them to navigate the energy transition more effectively.

Please describe what is currently going on in terms of key social programmes at UK Power Networks.

As an ambitious network operator, UK Power Networks is venturing into new territories to support vulnerable customers across our community. Building on our past work and research, we’ve gained invaluable insights into the challenges they face. Now, our focus is on developing innovative and scalable support offerings to address these challenges head-on.

This year is marked by exciting initiatives aimed at understanding the diverse ways we can truly make a difference for our customers. We’re exploring traditional partnership-based solutions, drawing on our expertise in tackling fuel poverty. Simultaneously, we’re forging new forms of partnerships, such as our collaboration with Community Energy South, to expand our reach and impact.

Moreover, we’re delving into more innovative forms of support to meet the evolving needs of our customers. For instance, we’re offering digital skills training to those who face challenges around lack of capacity, providing free loft insulation, and distributing smart packs to enhance energy efficiency. One of our flagship trials this year, in collaboration with Camden Council, the Centre for Sustainable Energy, and Utilita, focused on flexibility from social housing schemes through adopting energy efficiency, showcasing our commitment to embracing innovative approaches.

Through these initiatives, we’re not only enhancing our support offerings but also cementing our position as pioneers in driving positive change for vulnerable customers. This journey is an embodiment of our dedication to ensuring that no one is left behind in our pursuit of a more sustainable and inclusive energy future.

Do you feel optimistic about the UK meeting its societal obligations during decarbonisation?

With our proactive and innovative approach and increasing momentum towards decarbonisation, I am optimistic about meeting societal obligations. Our commitment to inclusivity and support for vulnerable customers, as outlined in our Vulnerability Strategy, is instrumental in achieving net zero.

What are the dangers of marginalising people during that process?

Marginalising people during the decarbonisation process can exacerbate social inequalities and hinder progress towards net zero. To mitigate this risk, we continue to refine our customer segmentation framework and provide targeted support and assistance to ensure no one is left behind.


Want to hear more from Farina? She’s speaking on the Customer, Culture and Workforce Stage at Utility Week Live. Register now here.