Innovative project uses energy efficiency to help the unemployed
Residential energy is saved and vulnerable gain skills through behaviour change project.
With a quarter of carbon dioxide emissions in the UK coming from the residential sector, there’s a need to find new ways to help households reduce energy use. While some of this is related to building condition and type, much is related to the way people use energy. In the last two years we have been working to tackle this issue in Wiltshire homes, and meanwhile provide a social benefit.
The project, Achieve, began life in Frankfurt five years ago to address the combined issues of high fuel costs and rising unemployment. In Germany if you’re unemployed the state covers your energy bills, so an idea was born to tackle both issues at once. Achieve trains and supports the unemployed to provide energy advice directly to vulnerable consumers – often their peers – in their homes, resulting in saved energy, changed behaviours and meanwhile helping people reintegrate into the job market.
At Severn Wye Energy Agency, an independent charity and not-for-profit that promotes sustainable energy, we spotted the potential and with European funding partnered with Wiltshire Council to run a series of training programmes. The programmes provide advice to residents struggling to pay energy bills and, meanwhile, the local unemployed to gain valuable new skills. To date we’ve trained seven advisers, helped more than 200 families and, as a consortium, reached over 1,700 homes in France, Bulgaria, Slovenia and Germany.
Gary Hardman of Trowbridge, who first became interested in Achieve through his local Job Centre Plus in the summer of 2012 has now undertaken more than 100 visits, and said: “I had never thought of working in this area, but I’m finding it really exciting and I have already found loads of ways to save in my own home.”
Achieve involves two free home visits. During the first, the trained advisers assess the home including bills and areas where energy is being wasted. This could include: the use of tungsten or halogen lighting, appliances routinely left on standby, or draughty doors and windows. The adviser then assesses which of a number of simple energy-saving devices may offer the greatest benefits for the household based on their current energy tariffs, and critically what this will mean for them in financial terms. On the second visit, the adviser installs the most appropriate devices and presents a report outlining their findings – including the time the original investment will take to be repaid to the household.
Key to the design of Achieve was that we did not want to rely completely on the ability of people to make long-term changes to their behaviour in order to make savings. Rather, we wanted to show people some small savings that they could make by installing simple devices. Through this, people are educated about the cost of specific appliances and will motivate others to go further with their own behaviour change.
One particular device that has proved successful in the savings reached and in its acceptance by clients is the retrofitting of halogen down lighters with LED equivalents. Having limited funding, we were usually only able to install one or two bulbs – an array typically has between three and five bulbs, and some households have more than 10 50-watt bulbs. This gave the client the opportunity to test the technology and to consider the return on further investment. During return visits we were pleasantly surprised to find a number of clients, despite their limited budget, had invested in further LEDs.
We also focused on highlighting the cost of appliances on standby, such as obsolete and unused video-players costing over £30 a year. While the savings are quite modest for individual modern appliances cumulatively they can soon add up. Where funding prevented us from installing a device, we were still able to translate the energy use into monetary terms for the resident, and it is this translation that we believe is key. Combined with educational material and remote support, we caught resident’s interest and have seen them take further energy-saving steps themselves.
In some cases the project has been able to go further and help households to access funding toward heating and insulation measures. One client in Melksham commented: “Top service. Thanks to your report, our housing association funded our switch from Economy 7 storage heaters to full gas central heating, making savings of about £45 a week.”
Climate change discussions and calls to reduce emissions will only go so far, and with so many people. But innovative projects like Achieve demonstrate how behaviour change can be achieved through tailored advice and a focus on the bottom line.