Local energy solutions: an important tool in alleviating fuel poverty

Unprecedented increases in energy costs are set to have a devastating impact on households across Scotland this winter. £250 has been added to average bills compared with last winter. It is estimated that a further £350 could be added in the spring.

Energy companies are failing every week and cheaper fixed deals have all but disappeared. Pre-pandemic, a quarter of households, over 600,000 in number, were struggling with their energy costs. Energy Action Scotland estimate that is set rise by over 100,000 households as the universal credit uplift is removed, furlough has ended, and people remain at home, increasing the number of fuel poor households in Scotland as high as one in three in the foreseeable future. 

These figures sit in contrast to the rest of the UK (note that the most recent figures are all pre-pandemic) 

  • In 2019 (the most recent Scottish House Condition Survey), Scotland’s levels of fuel poverty were estimated at 613,000, or 24.6 per cent of households;   
  • Northern Ireland was estimated at 131,000 households in 2018, or 18 per cent of households.   
  • Wales was estimated at 155,000 in 2018, or 12 per cent of households; 
  • England was estimated at around 2.4 million in 2018, or 10.3 per cent of households  

COP26 in Glasgow has provided a focus for discussions on achieving NetZero globally. Scotland has its ambitions to achieve NetZero enshrined in legislation for 2045. Our fuel poverty target of only 5% of households is similarly enshrined but for 2040. It is a challenge.  

Genuine transition needed

To make progress there needs to be huge systemic movement. Our relationship with energy needs to change. The stealth taxes that so unfairly burden those on the lowest incomes need to be removed. We have long argued against the unfairness of tax levies on gas and especially on electricity. Fairness dictates, that these should sit within general taxation.  Energy supplier funded research into how policy costs are applied to energy bills appears to agree that the current position isn’t fair and isn’t part of a just transition. However, it does appear that this research favours a redistribution of policy costs and the introduction of a carbon charge. An interesting proposal but less fair than moving these costs to general taxation.

It will be difficult to change the behaviour of the public set against a backdrop where millions of households in the UK are in energy debt. Scotland’s Energy Consumers Commission is rightly concerned. As a Commissioner I am very troubled by what I see. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation estimates that over 4million households are already in debt and that 1.4million households are behind on energy bills, making the transition to NetZero even more complicated and stressful for people.  

There is a risk that decarbonisation could come with a dogmatic approach that isn’t sensitive to the issues faced by vulnerable and low-income households. Environmentalists have waited a long time to be taken this seriously and by underestimating the challenge in shifting the lives of people already disenfranchised and on the margins of society, there is a risk of social collateral damage. Of course, there will be an improvement in the long term to the quality of our lives and indeed potentially our health and wellbeing. But there needs to be genuine transition, signals, and incentives to engage us all on this journey.  

Insulation, improvements to the fabric of building are essential but we will need to look a lot deeper and further if we are to meet our NetZero ambitions.  

Optimistic horizon

I genuinely believe that we stand at a new dawn for our relationship with energy. Where there will be room for diversity, for heat networks, for community ownership, local energy generation, for domestic renewable energy, as well as a shift in the perspectives of our scaled energy generation, our energy infrastructure, and suppliers. The signs are there. Targets are being set. Policy and strategies are being developed. Governments and society more widely understand the rationale for change and indeed what needs to change. I am optimistic, in the medium to long term certainly. Short term I am concerned about the collateral damage, the loss of life, of health and wellbeing, as energy becomes unaffordable for far too many. 

Targeted local energy solutions should be able to protect communities from the fluctuations of the energy market especially in areas that are off-gas. 43% of households in electrically heated homes find themselves in fuel poverty. The current price shocks will have increased this and put even more households into extreme fuel poverty.  

We will need to mobilise unprecedented levels of support to even approach something like a standstill for fuel poor households. A vibrant community energy sector is essential if we are to overcome fuel poverty and meet our NetZero ambitions 

Frazer Scott, CEO at Energy Action Scotland, founded in 1983 it is Scotland’s fuel poverty charity – guest blog


At Community Energy Scotland we value our team’s and communities’ opinions. Blogs are a chance for us, our members and guests to share personal opinions and expertise, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Community Energy Scotland as an organisation. Please note opinions may change and Community Energy Scotland does not offer any endorsements.

Next Steps: One year on

Community Energy Scotland did not sit idle through the COVID-19 pandemic. A year ago today, we published our ‘Next Steps’ document which sets out a vision for Scotland in 2025:

‘The decentralised energy system has enabled the growth of a new tier of local energy suppliers who are contributing to a wider process of economic localisation, retaining more value in local communities and helping to underpin a renaissance of community life. Local production and supply of essential goods and services – the foundations for a good quality of life and resilience – is widespread, with safe and sustainable local transport options, powered by local energy. … We have achieved a robust and sustainable system, with high level of public participation, awareness and contribution to decision-making.’

Of course, in July 2020 we could not see the second wave of COVID-19 that was to hit by Christmas, nor the speed with which the Delta Variant would travel the globe. COVID-19 has hit harder and with a deeper bite than we could have imagined. Nurseries, schools, universities, and workplaces have all been closed far longer than was initially predicted. Yet some of the positives we saw emerging in July 2020 have indeed stayed the course, there has been increased community effort and a caring for our neighbours that has got many people through the pandemic more safely than we might have imagined. The Scottish Government produced a report by the summer of 2020, which showed that pre-existing inequalities affected the impact of COVID-19 on a variety of people who live in Scotland; ‘It is now clear from emerging evidence that the impacts of the COVID-19 crisis arising from the direct and indirect effects of contracting the illness, as well as the lockdown measures put in place to control spread of the virus, are significant and unequal’. Housing, fuel poverty and food insecurity being the three biggest issues cited, alongside, racial inequalities, a rise in domestic abuse and the collapse of some job sectors such as tourism, retail and entertainment/the arts.

Throughout the crisis of 2020-21, there has been an acknowledged connection between fuel poverty and food insecurity, in tackling one, we need to tackle the other. Nourish Scotland have been campaigning hard for a ‘Right To Food’ we, at Community Energy Scotland, are aware that food insecurity cannot be solved alone. It must also mean enabling people to have the ability to cook at home, to live in warm, sustainable, housing and to travel within a Net Zero society. For energy, just as for food, the role of the community level organisation is key:

Community groups can play a number of key roles in the energy transition more effectively than the private or public sectors. They can act as trusted intermediaries, offering advice and support on energy efficiency; organise collective bulk-buying and retrofit schemes; coordinate peer-to-peer trading of electricity; and provide local aggregation platforms for flexibility; start up 11 community EV car clubs and e-bike rental schemes; and help to democratise the energy system. These are all essential areas to tackle as we transition to a low-carbon and decentralised energy model.’

CES Next Steps, page 10

We also need structural, legislative and regulatory support for communities to be the key players we perceive them to be in the journey to Net Zero. Both the Westminster Government and the Scottish Government have set ambitious Net Zero targets. To reach them, we need a much higher level of public awareness and much greater public action which would be underpinned by individual behaviour change. The Next Steps report outlines five main areas where progress could be made, from Local Energy Innovation Zones, to Energy Demand Reduction, Local Supply, Flexibility, Transport and Strengthening Communities. We need all five if we are going to reach Net Zero, bring people along with us on that journey, and create thriving local communities where foodbanks and fuel poverty are a thing of the past.

Janet Foggie, CEO @CES


At Community Energy Scotland we value our team’s and communities’ opinions. Blogs are a chance for us, our members and guests to share personal opinions and expertise, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Community Energy Scotland as an organisation. Please note opinions may change and Community Energy Scotland does not offer any endorsements.

New Build Heat Standard: Our consultation response

The New Build Heat Standard consultation requires new buildings consented from 2024 to use heating systems with zero direct emissions. CES put forward the view that action in this area is long overdue. The construction sector, and housing developers in particular, have been reluctant to take action in this area and the Scottish Government have been too too slow in enforcing higher standards. Low carbon heating systems are a proven technology but this must be accompanied by higher standards of energy efficiency if we are to reduce levels of fuel poverty and total energy costs for consumers.

Heat in Buildings strategy consultation: Our response

The Draft Heat in Buildings Strategy sets out the Scottish Government’s proposed actions for transforming buildings and the systems that supply their heat, ensuring a transition to zero emissions by 2045. We welcome the long-term ambition and the comprehensive proposals, and recognise the intent to accelerate the timetable for action but questions remain about whether these go far enough.

The proposals highlight the considerable challenges ahead particularly around reconciling the cost of transitioning to low carbon heating systems and the financial burden this will place on many households already in fuel poverty, but it is difficult to see how the Scottish Government’s short-term targets will be met within the timescales proposed and with the level of financial support being offered.

Heat Smart Orkney

HSO – smart community energy

Orkney suffers high levels of fuel poverty, and lost generation and revenue due to grid curtailment, while having some of the highest wind generation capacity. For the islands of Rousay and Eday, an average of >45 % of production (nearly £500k lost revenue combined per annum) when curtailment first started to impede generation. The Heat Smart Orkney (HSO) project (funded by the Scottish Government’s Local Energy Challenge Fund) provides a smart solution by connecting the community owned wind turbines to the heating of local homes.

Rousay, Egilsay and Wyre Development Trust led HSO, with delivery support from Community Energy Scotland. A technology partner developed an aggregator platform to monitor signals from the distribution system operator’s (DSO’s) Active Management System to the turbine and control the demand-side management (DSM) load (264kW of hot water cylinders and storage heaters) to the benefit of the turbine. This required the DSM loads to react fast enough to be relevant to the project’s goals.

The funded project was completed in 2019 however the community will continue to fund the project as it is now starting to show live matching as a business-as-usual activity. It has already fed learnings into two multi-million-pound projects in Orkney, with implications for the rest of the UK.

Over 70 properties benefited from the project. Energy fuels across project properties saw a total drop, due to displacement or efficiency measures, of 4,700 litres of oil; 8,000kg of coal and wood; and 20.4MWh of electricity. However, the benefits went beyond being able to reduce fuel costs and increase generation, including: energy advice; increased sense of ownership of local energy; increased revenue for community projects; employment for 3 isle residents.

A key aim of HSO was to reduce fuel poverty. A rebate compensated homeowners for the additional power used in their home at a higher cost than the alternative provision of heat (oil, coal, etc). Due to its success, the rebate rate was doubled to promote further incentive.

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