Denise Chevin shares some of the standout points from discussions around prosumers, fuel poverty, and electric vehicles from the customer solutions theatre, at our recent Utility Week Live conference

Local authorities must partner with businesses to drive the low-carbon agenda at the community level if the country is to meets its net zero targets. That was the key message from the Utility Week Live session entitled “Future energy models and the prosumer”.

The call came as one of the speakers, Bristol City councillor Kye Dudd, the member for energy and transport, said the council was preparing to draw up procurement documents to find a partner to help it deliver its £1 billion energy transformation programme.

At a cabinet meeting in April, the council made the decision to go out to market to find a joint venture commercial partner for the £1 billion City Leap initiative. This is a programme to facilitate a smart, interconnected energy system for the city, which now has a target of 2030 to be energy neutral, said Dudd.

The City Leap initiative covers a range of projects including low-carbon heat networks, renewable energy from wind, solar and marine sources, as well as energy efficiency, electric vehicles and smart energy systems.

Bristol’s prospectus of partnership and investment opportunities attracted interest from more than 180 local, national and international organisations when it was launched last summer. They included tech firms, investors, community organisations and innovative energy and infrastructure developers. “Of these, 47 were local interests, 107 were from across the country and 52 were from global partners,” said Dudd.

Patrick Allcorn, head of local energy at BEIS, commended the lead Bristol City Council was taking and said the UK would only meet net zero targets if communities at the town and city level drove the agenda.

“Forty per cent of the transition is technical and 60 per cent is behaviour change – and that needs to be driven by trusted intermediaries like employers and councils.”

The theme of finance and partnerships was picked up by Rob Saunders, head of energy at Innovate UK, which is running a £100 million programme of funding for future energy projects to decentralise the network. He said projects must be “scalable, replicable and investable to get funding” – but added that innovative finance is often the missing link from the ideas that are put forward.

He said that Innovate UK wanted to create systems that would unlock the private sector, and that it was vital for users, businesses and government to come together.

Saunders said that Innovate UK had recently opened a £30 million competition for groundbreaking local energy system designs that integrate the provision of heat, power and transport.

Driving customers towards electric vehicles

Consumers are warming to the idea of buying electric vehicles, but only one in 10 think the government is doing enough to encourage them, according to new research.

Speaking at Utility Week Live, Nicole McNab, associate director at Impact, and her colleague Dawn Mulvey, head of consultancy, presented early findings of the company’s fourth consumer sentiment tracker on attitudes to EVs.

Mulvey said the limited range of EVs was still perceived as an issue with consumers, and parents were concerned by the lack of noise they make. Almost half (47 per cent) did not think the government would hit the target of making all new cars electric by 2040.

On the positive note, nearly half (42 per cent) would be keen to have a green number plate – which is seen as a “badge of honour”. In terms of take-up, nearly 7 out of 10 said they would be motivated by lower running costs of EVs, with nearly 6 out of 10 (58 per cent) motivated by environmental considerations.

The findings indicated that consumers would embrace the move to time-of-use tariffs, with 75 per cent saying they would charge their cars out of peak time.

Addressing fuel poverty

The challenges of ensuring people did not have to choose between “heating and eating” were laid bare as speakers discussed growing debt, the failings of the Energy Company Obligation (Eco) and how fuel banks were helping 250,000 people a year.

Dhara Vyas, head of future energy services at Citizen’s Advice, said the reduction in funding for the Eco energy efficiency scheme meant it had become harder to get sign off for measures to be installed and, even if clients were technically eligible, advisers did not know with certainty whether there was Eco funding available because “no one organisation holds this data”.

Vyas told the conference audience that awareness and understanding of energy efficiency measures had fallen – as had confidence in installing them. Poor quality of workmanship and scams around the green deal were the cause, she said. “Long term, the Eco does need to be reformed.”

Olivia Haslam, deputy director of the Warm Homes team at BEIS, said the latest phase of the programme, ECO3, which was launched in December 2018, runs to 2022, but BEIS was starting to think about the new programme already. It is currently putting in place a new standard for competence that installers must have reached before they can do work under the Eco scheme.

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