Solar PV systems started to become popular in 2010 due to the introduction of the Feed-in Tariff scheme, which provides payments to households generating electricity using solar photovoltaic (PV) systems.

Many social landlords installed PV thinking their tenants would see fuel cost savings, but there had not been any follow on research carried out, to see what these savings were. Any figures were modelled figures and not exact. Landlords wanted to know if their tenants were achieving savings, but they didn’t have the resources to do the research.

At the same time, among the general public, solar PV technology is still seen by some as expensive and as such, the preserve of middle- and high-income households. We wanted to test this premise and assess if solar PV could be used effectively in a social housing context, in an effort to combat fuel poverty.

Securing funding

We applied to eaga Charitable Trust for funding to research the effectiveness of solar photovoltaic systems in social housing and to implement improvements.

Naomi Brown, Trust Manager, eaga Charitable Trust, says:

“Very little work had ever been done, looking at how solar PV could tackle fuel poverty. We were aware that social landlords were taking up solar PV systems and installing them on their properties at an increasing rate, but Changeworks flagged up an interesting point; it wasn’t at all clear if these social houses were achieving the full benefit of having solar PV panels.

“We were very interested to discover what the benefits were and if they were being recognised. Changeworks’ research proposal was perfectly pitched to give us an insight into this situation.”

Methodology

We worked with seven social landlords to survey and interview tenants in properties which had solar PV panels to explore their understanding of the system and its benefits.

We also measured electricity bills to calculate savings achieved from tenants’ use of solar PV. A clear aim of this process was to educate tenants and landlords about solar PV systems and how they can be used effectively to alleviate fuel poverty.

Key findings

Surveys of over 100 tenants revealed that the majority were not aware of how to make the most of their solar panels, ie that using electricity during daylight hours would save them money.

Data analysis also showed that many tenants were not saving as much money on their electricity bills as they could be.

Acting on results

We worked with tenants to improve their understanding of how their panels worked and how to maximise the benefits of the electricity they produce, helping them save money on their electricity bills.

To help social landlords and their tenants make more effective use of their solar PV, we developed two resources: an information leaflet for tenants giving clear and simple advice on how to get the most out of solar PV panels and a dedicated guide for social landlords considering installing PV panels on their properties.

The landlords’ guide included practical advice to ensure their tenants receive the maximum benefit from the solar PV installations.

Housing Association feedback

Pierre de Fence, Director, Knowes Housing Association, told us:

“The project was useful for us to understand the real benefits of the solar PV panels. It was clear that some tenants were seeing benefits and others less so. Changeworks’ leaflet made them more aware of what they could be doing in order to realise greater savings.”

Feedback from our funder

Naomi Brown needs to be assured that any research funded by eaga Charitable Trust delivers high-quality results. Naomi says:

“The documents Changeworks produced based on their research findings, including their research report and the information leaflets and guides, are of a very high quality.

“They are professionally written, put together and presented. The style of their writing is to the point, containing all the necessary information. These documents effectively reinforce the research they do.

“Changeworks’ final research report has been reviewed and approved by all eaga trustees. We have awarded them an additional grant to promote their research output. There is a larger benefit to be had by getting the results of this research out to the public domain and specifically targeting policy makers. We believe this approach offers the best chance of changes being made in this area.

“We consider Changeworks a valued research organisation. In fact, we have just approved a further grant application that they have submitted. That we have done so, in a very competitive application round, shows that they are respected by my trustees as a research body.”

“I would say without exception, Changeworks has excellent staff working on these research projects.”

Naomi Brown, Trust Manager, eaga Charitable Trust

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