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Low-carbon heating - getting warmer, but not quite there

It may seem an obvious point to say that to better manage our energy use, technologies need to be both accessible and clearly explained. But it appears there is still some work to be done to make sure this is the case.

Where heating is concerned, it seems there’s especially some room for improvements. A recent survey of over 2,000 showed some striking misunderstandings about renewable heat. Two-thirds, for example, identified wind turbines and solar PV as renewable heat technologies, while biomass boilers were identified by a quarter, and heat pumps even less. Knowledge of related issues such as where to acquire the fuel for wood-fuelled heating was also low.

At the same time, though, people were positive about reducing energy consumption, and two-thirds had taken action to reduce the energy they use over the last two years. This echoes the findings of all our recent consumer surveys. But nice noises are not enough; despite our work and others’ over the last few decades, there are still significant knowledge gaps to be filled if widespread roll-out of low-carbon technologies is going to be achieved relatively seamlessly.

Then there’s the issue of making sure everyone can have an equal stake in our low-carbon future. RICA, the consumer group for older and disabled people, published some work looking at heating controls, with an energy-saving focus – and made some worrying conclusions. It suggests that people with sight loss may face struggles with many programmers and thermostats on the market – even those aimed specifically at people with visual impairment.

Small text, complex buttons and switches and tactile text in unexpected locations prove common stumbling blocks, as well as counter-intuitive workings such as the hours on a programmer going anti-clockwise.  There are also issues surrounding colour-contrast and clear temperature markings.

There were some positives to be found: for some controls switching mode was easy, many had some sound feedback, and there were some positive examples in terms of colour usage on displays and dials. But while the news from the testing could hardly be said to be overwhelmingly positive, getting the information out there is a start, and will hopefully nudge companies into making small design changes that could make a world of difference in terms of carbon reduction, cost and comfort.

Gary Hartley is Energy Saving Trust's expert blogger. He has extensive experience researching and writing on a number of topics, with particular expertise in sustainable energy, policy, literature and sport. As well as providing regular blog content, Gary has also been published in numerous magazines and journals.

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