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Striving for the social benefits of energy efficiency

Good news in London: More money has been allocated to provide energy retrofits in social housing through the Decent Homes programme. Thousands of homes should benefit, and it is great to see money being targeted at the areas of most need, with the highest risk of fuel poverty. In addition, around 175,000 council homes in the worst condition should be tackled through a separate £50million pot for London energy efficiency measures.

Taking on the poor energy efficiency of hard-to-treat homes while also striving to disrupt residents as little as possible is an ongoing challenge for councils and housing associations. But one such association, The Hyde Group, has taken an eye-catching approach to installing cavity wall insulation in South London - via abseilers. An added bonus is that this technique is significantly cheaper. There are other benefits too, as Jack Skinner, the association’s sustainability manager explains:

"Abseiling reduced disruption to residents and is far more efficient than scaffolding, cutting project costs by 45% and time by 65%. This meant we were able to treat nearly twice as many homes for the same cost. Abseiling also has less environmental impact than scaffolding, as transport and on-site activities are reduced, which lowers carbon emissions.”

Innovation is not only required in making fabric changes, but also in dealing with the knock-on effects of changes in energy supply and demand. There has been a significant rise in the installation of solar PV on the roofs of social housing in recent years, boosted by the Feed-in Tariff. An effect of too many installations in one area, though, is that it can be problematic for local electricity distribution networks - which often can’t cope with the amount of ‘upstream’ energy going back to the grid. One solution to this is the growth of smart grids - and The Accord Group, a collective of eight housing organisations in the Midlands, have decided to use a Dragon’s Den format for their smart grid challenge.

Everything from in-home battery storage to a technology that can route surplus energy between homes was under the scrutiny of experts. The winning local company will see their emerging demand management product play a key role in the plans to establish a smart grid for 50 retrofitted terrace homes.

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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