Sustainability First’s Project Inspire ‘A catalyst for change’

Groundbreaking work on innovation and vulnerable customers supported by many, including CEO of Ofgem

We are on the cusp of a revolution in the energy industry. Millions of smart meters have already been installed in homes in Great Britain. Alongside artificial intelligence and other new technologies, this could provide the potential for a digital transformation in how we generate, store, provide, use, structure and pay for our energy.

However, with millions of people potentially vulnerable, including the estimated 4 million households in fuel poverty, 11 million disabled and long-term sick, and 1 in 4 people who experience a mental health problem each year, attention will be needed to make sure that nobody is left behind in this transition. In the context of Ofgem's move to more principles-based regulation, there has never been a better time to refocus on vulnerability and consider more flexible, targeted and innovative approaches.

Sustainability First set up Project Inspire in October 2016 to help ensure that all consumers, including those with additional needs and on low incomes, are not just protected but are also empowered and experience the benefits of change. 'Innovation for all' is needed to meet the current, future and unarticulated needs of those in vulnerable situations.

The project brings together fifteen months of analysis, research and collaboration with over 100 organisations –charities, disability groups, energy suppliers and network companies, academics, regulators, government decision makers, product manufacturers and service providers. The findings of this process are presented in a final project report, which can be downloaded here:

Headline conclusions include that there are pockets of real innovation on vulnerability in the industry. However, this is not across the board, and many companies are still focused on getting the basics right. It also became clear that the potential benefits to vulnerable customers from smart technology and big data would not necessarily follow automatically, and action will need to be taken to make sure these come about.

With this in mind, the report includes 5 vulnerability tools to help decision-makers think about how they can best meet the needs of vulnerable customers. Among them are four practical guides to good and innovative practice, based on over 70 case studies. These were sourced through a rigorous process which included a 'Dragons' Den'-style innovation day where innovators presented projects designed to help people in vulnerable situations before a panel of expert judges.

The other tools include:

  • A set of 18 recommendations to stimulate real change for customers in vulnerable situations
  • A Sustainability First Vulnerability Innovation Flight Path
  • A high-level overview of the current regulatory framework by SF associate Maxine Frerk
  • A practical look at how smart innovations can better serve vulnerable customers.

The report was launched at a high-profile event on 29 January 2018, with speeches from representatives of Smart Energy GB and the Minister's office, as well as an innovation showcase featuring some of the case studies from the report. Dermot Nolan, CEO of Ofgem, delivered the keynote address.

"This report demonstrates that when energy companies want to, they can innovate well for their vulnerable customers and make real improvements to their lives," he said.

"However, as it stands, this just doesn't happen enough. We want to see a culture of innovation for all across the energy sector. We are pleased to sponsor this report and hope it will be a catalyst for change."

Sustainability First's Zoe McLeod, the writer of the report and the lead on Project Inspire, said:

"Millions of people in Great Britain are on low incomes or have extra needs. There are many improvements that companies could and should make to the way they identify, support and empower vulnerable customers – and this report gives them tools to do it."

Project Inspire was sponsored by: Ofgem, EDF Energy, E.ON. geo, Scottish Power, Smart Energy GB, SGN, Toshiba, and Western Power Distribution. It was also actively supported by Citizens Advice and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).

If you are interested in the latest news and insights on Vulnerability Innovation and being involved with the next phase of Project Inspire contact:

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