Our CEO Brian Hills spoke with PBC Today about how data-led solutions should be seen as a vital asset in the battle against rising living costs and the UK’s energy crisis.
Britain is being gripped by an energy crisis, with households across the country facing fuel bill rises not seen before in many people’s lifetimes.
But so much more could be done to ease the pain, especially for society’s most vulnerable households, to withstand the financial perils of rising energy costs. This could include ensuring our housing stock is up to scratch and that the UK energy market is better monitored and measured, to achieve its maximum efficiency.
Most of the UK’s housing is poorly insulated
It is estimated there are 5.5 million social houses across the UK, for instance, but many of those are decades old and often are very poorly insulated.
The latest figures show the UK is one of the worst countries in Europe when it comes to energy efficiency in homes.
A recent report by the Institute for Government warned that if nothing is done to update the country’s affordable insulation programmes nationally, then “UK households and business are likely to still be facing high energy bills in the winter of 2023 – quite possibly beyond that”.
This is before we consider how long the turmoil in Ukraine could last, meaning estimates on how much further energy costs could rise, is still largely guesswork.
Data-led solutions hold the key to helping ease energy pressures on UK families
Addressing these issues will only be possible with collective action – and I firmly believe the kind of specialist work that organisations like ours and others in our sector are doing around making the best use of data, particularly in the accelerated use of artificial intelligence (AI), holds the key to helping ease energy pressures on UK families, and the economy.
We live in a world dominated by accurate, dependable data, and how it’s analysed.
Latest estimates suggest 2.5 quintillion bytes of data are being created daily. This mountain of market information, automatically gathered using AI, is helping us not only to better inform insights and strategies but also resolve organisational and national challenges, most pointedly now, energy use and living costs.
Organisations, large and small, are gaining a better understanding of how they can benefit from data and AI to understand it, and we are already seeing more examples every day of how it can tackle the climate crisis.
We have been working, for instance, with Scottish green energy project specialists Natural Power – in collaboration with the University of Strathclyde – on research to develop and use AI to improve energy use forecasting systems.
Data-driven forecasts improve accuracy by up to 20%
Results have already shown up to 20% improved accuracy by using statistical, data-driven forecasts alongside more traditional numerical weather prediction-based estimates.
Guaranteeing energy generation from renewables – such as wind and solar – can be a huge challenge, especially if the weather is not ‘agreeable’.
But by embedding an AI tool into its forecasting, National Power can now accurately predict the amount of green energy entering the national grid and create optimum forecasts for short and long-term power requirements.
Other energy providers are also using AI to predict the best- and worst-case scenarios for what energy demand in major cities might look like if our climate targets are not met.
Prioritising the state of national housing stock
Closer to everyone’s daily needs, we as a country and the energy industry desperately need to prioritise the current and future state of our national housing stock.
In 2019, the UK’s Climate Change Committee – the independent body that advises governments on emissions targets and reports to Westminster and devolved administrations on progress – assessed whether British homes were adequately prepared for the challenges of climate change.
It found the country’s 29 million houses accounted for 14% of total UK emissions. And that average homes lost up to a third of their heat through ageing and outdated roofs, walls, floors, and windows.
This issue is the focus of IRT, the Dundee-based energy consultancy, which since 2002 has surveyed over 350,000 homes across the UK and used its findings to recommend the best ways of making properties more energy-efficient.
Again, with our support in gathering then analysing its data, and working alongside Robert Gordon University in its case, IRT has been capturing thermal images from around 500 housing association properties each day to better understand where heat loss exists and can be improved.
Over six months, we have supported the creation of an AI-led solution that makes it simpler and faster to process and analyse these thermal images. Previously its team could physically spend weeks pouring over thousands of images, before making recommendations on energy-saving improvements.
Its new imaging solution has been designed to identify and then automatically eliminate any irrelevant elements such as healthy windows and doors, or neighbouring houses and cars. It’s now in the final stages of development, before being used ‘live’ at housing association properties right across the country by the end of this year.
Helping housing associations to assess the sustainability of their portfolios
The insights being learned from IRT’s data-led tool will help associations – which supply housing to some of the UK’s most vulnerable households – accurately assess how eco-friendly their portfolios are, ultimately accelerating the decarbonisation of the UK’s built environment and potentially improve the quality of thousands of affordable housing units.
And, of course, reduce the energy bill of countless tenants.
Recent data from the National Housing Federation found that in England alone, should every housing association retrofit their properties with these types of energy-efficiency measures, nationally tenants could save a massive £700m annually on their utility bills.
At a time when there are more financial pressures on everyone, any measure that can be taken to reduce bills should be warmly welcomed.
The data being generated daily within all vital sectors should be viewed as a national asset that should be used to full effect, especially in these times of crisis.
This article was originally published in PBC Today on 23 November 2022:
How data-led solutions are helping to ease UK’s energy crisis | PBC Today