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Report identifies 'fit and forget' approach to fuel poverty

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Issued:09/01/12

Social housing providers are installing renewable energy without a complete knowledge of its potential in a 'fit and forget' approach to fuel poverty, a new report by Sheffield Hallam University has found.

The Centre for Infrastructure Management at Sheffield Hallam says renewable energy technologies, such as photovoltaic arrays, solar thermal panels and ground source heat pumps, are increasingly being used by social housing providers to help alleviate fuel poverty and reduce carbon emissions - but to date it was not clear which technologies were most cost-effective.

Dr Fin O'Flaherty, one of the authors of the research funded by the Eaga Charitable Trust, said: "Recent figures show that up to one in four households in the UK are in fuel poverty. Many local authorities and housing associations have begun installing renewable energy technologies on their properties in a bid to address this problem.

"While we applaud them for this and appreciate their motivations, our report has found that there is often a limited understanding of how the technologies perform in use or what level of savings are being delivered to residents."

The report found that social housing providers have often adopted a ‘fit and forget’ approach to the installation of renewable technologies, which has resulted in under-performing systems and diminished financial savings for residents.

Dr O' Flaherty argues that such an approach is not sustainable and a symptom of the way schemes have been funded in the past – often through grant funding – and which means that there has been no provision for ongoing performance monitoring and system maintenance.

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He said: "The introduction of government subsidies, such as the Feed-in-Tariff scheme, mean that payback periods for renewable energy technologies have fallen and social housing providers have begun to adopt a more long-term attitude toward their schemes.

"However, under-performing and malfunctioning renewable energy technologies will result in a reduction in income for social housing providers and undermine the economics of schemes.

"Renewable energy technologies should not been seen as a silver bullet for alleviating the problem of fuel poverty in the UK, but when used in conjunction with other energy efficiency measures they can provide a useful way of reducing households’ dependence on energy supplied by utility companies."

For press information: contact Laurie Harvey in the University’s press office on 0114 225 2621 or email pressoffice@shu.ac.uk