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Tackling customer vulnerability – the innovative way

A new project we are launching to support vulnerable customers will use innovation to identify fuel poverty issues and ensure no customers are left behind in the transition to a smarter, greener network.

Heat pump illustration

We are committed to achieving net zero, and this is supported by our industry-leading innovation programme.

Known as VENICE (Vulnerability and Energy Networks, Identification and Consumption Evaluation), the new project will use a three-pronged approach to support vulnerable customers in the future.

The first will focus on a Net Zero Community (NZCo) at Wadebridge in Cornwall. Led by Wadebridge Renewable Energy Network (WREN), the project will establish how net zero is likely to impact on fuel poverty, as growing numbers of people switch to electrified transport and heat.

Community energy group WREN will then look at how it can work with WPD to support vulnerable customers through this transition, finding ways for them to participate in the decarbonisation of the energy system to benefit the community and achieve net zero equality. This will include investigating different commercial models in order to establish which ones work best for consumers.

The second strand, led by Frazer-Nash Consultancy, will explore whether smart meter data can be used to identify vulnerable customers and to create a Vulnerability Prediction Model. The model would be used to determine if a customer’s energy use history displays vulnerability markers.

Tools like this could enable electricity operators like WPD, in collaboration with other stakeholders, to target investment and support at communities where it would be most effective at tackling vulnerability.

Frontier Economics will look at changes in electricity use during the pandemic and how likely these changes are to continue, for instance, the shift to home working – and whether this will have an impact on customers in vulnerable situations. This could be invaluable to all DNO’s for their business planning.

WPD Innovation Engineer Stuart Fowler said: “VENICE is no ordinary innovation project – it will shine a real light on energy use and help us to reach out to the people who need it most.

“While all our innovation projects aim to improve the efficiency and resilience of the network and ultimately to benefit customers, VENICE starts with the customers.

“The next few years will see a dramatic change in the way we use electricity to live our lives. Many of us will soon be driving electric vehicles while also installing heat pumps. These changes will help us to make huge steps in tackling climate change and achieving the aim of becoming a net zero nation. While this will be a challenge for us all, we must ensure that the needs of those who are fuel poor and vulnerable are considered.

“By looking at their energy use – including changes as a result of the pandemic – we can make sure we target our support and investment at the communities, and even the households, that need it most.”

The VENICE project will be funded by Ofgem’s National Innovation Allowance.

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  • Innovation