Fuel poverty is widely recognised as a major and increasing problem. Professor Tariq Muneer and his colleagues at Napier University believe that community-based energy cooperatives have a big role to play in meeting the challenge. In this article for SURF, he explains why we should be investing more in such a socially and economically beneficial form of infrastructure.
Potential for alleviating fuel poverty in Scotland: A sustainable solution
Fuel poverty statistics estimate the number of households that need to spend more than 10 per cent of their income on fuel to maintain a satisfactory heating regime, as well as meeting their other fuel needs such as lighting and appliances, cooking and water heating. With ever increasing fuel prices it has now been recognised that one in three households in Scotland falls under the fuel-poverty threshold .
With Scotland and the rest of the UK concerned about climate change and with the UK now a net importer of energy it makes economic and social sense to think of alternate ways to provide sustainable and affordable home heating schemes.
Central heating is an important factor in reducing the incidence of condensation, resulting in improved comfort for occupants, as well as contributing to enhanced energy efficiency of the dwelling. Between 1991 and 2009, the percentage of dwellings with full central heating has risen from 62% to 98%. Fuel poverty fell sharply between 1996 and 2002, mainly due to increased income and falling fuel prices. However, fuel poverty has been rising in more recent years, largely because current increases in fuel prices are only being partially offset by rising incomes and energy efficiency increases. In 2010, 28% of households were in fuel poverty, compared to 13% in 2002 .
According to the latest available energy trends the amount of total annual energy consumed in the United Kingdom is 1593TWh . Note that 1TWh is a billion kWh, the latter being the amount of energy used if a 1kW electric heater was switched on for an hour. The domestic sector is responsible for 28% of the above-mentioned total energy budget. Furthermore, the ratio of electricity-heat consumption split within British homes is 25%:75% . Owing to longer and more severe winters that are experienced in Scotland the above proportion then becomes 20%:80%. There is hence a much more economical and social sense to invest in sustainable sources for heating of buildings. We note however that although successive Scottish Governments have invested quite heavily towards wind farm development, there is not much evidence of even sparse funding for thermal applications.
In Central Scotland during the heating season and on a pitched roof would have a solar energy density of 2kWh/m2 per day. If solar thermal air collectors are employed it is possible to convert around 65-70% of solar irradiation. The above heaters would be made of Aluminium and would deliver heated air at an average temperature of 35 Celsius. If produced by community-based energy co-operatives these finned-collectors would cost less than £250/m2 and would have a payback period of less than 10 years.
At Edinburgh’s Napier University, thermal solar collectors have been produced for over 25 years and their performance carefully studied under laboratory and field conditions. A picture of one such finned-heater is shown below.
The authors believe that community-based energy co-operatives have a significant role to play for the alleviation of fuel poverty. These co-operatives would introduce and enhance local employment sector and bring back manufacturing to its rightful home base. The product would be produced at lowest cost possible and would be under constant research review for its improvement. In this respect, the authors have produced a video for the inducement of such activity .
Dr E Jadraque-Gago*, L McCauley** & Professor T Muneer**
* University of Granada, Spain
** Edinburgh Napier University, Scotland