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Innovation for Vulnerability


Sustainability First's Project ‘Inspire’  on innovation and consumer vulnerability ran from 2016 to 2018.  The overarching aim of the project was to improve service delivery and quality of life for energy customers in vulnerable circumstances.

The project achieved this by:

  • Identifying, sharing and promoting case studies of how innovation, particularly technological innovation, can support energy customers in vulnerable circumstances. In doing so, the project shone a spotlight on the potential for smarter approaches
  • Exploring and identifying any barriers and enablers to beneficial innovation e.g. regulatory, financial, legislative, organizational, and making recommendations as appropriate
  • Horizon scanning - capture high-level views on potential new opportunities and future barriers to better serving energy customers in vulnerable circumstances

Why Inspire

With more than 8.5m smart meters now installed in homes in Great Britain we are on the cusp of a digital revolution in energy. Powerful data processing capability, artificial intelligence and new technologies are also combining to fundamentally change how we generate, store provide, use structure and pay for our energy.

In this transforming world, Sustainability First set up Project Inspire to help ensure that all consumers, including the millions who are potentially vulnerable, are not just protected but also experience the benefits of change.

Sustainability First’s earlier research with Frontier Economics on distribution network operators (DNOs) action on vulnerability and Ofgem’s 2016 Challenge Panel both highlighted services for customers with additional needs as an area for improvement. Moreover our wider work outlined a risk that opportunities to deliver benefits from smart meters were in danger of being missed.

“Innovation for all” is needed to meet the current, future and unarticulated needs of those in vulnerable situations, and to do so more cost efficiently. There are also potential benefits to business and wider society from ‘vulnerability innovation’.


The Inspire Project Group

Project Inspire was led by Sustainability First’s Zoe McLeod. Inspire was a multi‐partner project sponsored by Ofgem, EDF Energy, E.ON, Scottish Power, SGN, Western Power Distribution, geo, Toshiba, and Smart Energy GB. The project was also actively supported by colleagues in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and Citizens Advice. Together these organisations made up the ‘Inspire Project Group’ . The Project Group provided valuable challenge and expert insight to our research. We drew on their diverse experience and perspectives from across energy networks, suppliers, Government, the regulator, product manufacturers and consumer arenas.

It should be noted that our research findings and reports are independent from the Project Group, with all decisions on content and editorial control resting with Sustainability First.

The Project was supported by:


Project Reports & Publications


Report: Energy for All- Innovate for All

Innovation and consumer vulnerability – improving service and quality of life for energy customers in vulnerable situations

Summary Report (Quick Download)Inspire cover
Full Report (Print Quality - Large Download)
Media Statement

Sustainability First’s Project Inspire report Energy for All – Innovate for All is a ground breaking piece of research and collaboration which brings together 15 months of analysis and research. Over the course of the project we have brought together and collaborated with more than 100 organisations – consumer and disability groups; energy suppliers; energy networks; academics, regulators, government officials and product and service providers.

Our five vulnerability tools

The report includes a full set of research findings on barriers and enablers to vulnerability innovation. In addition, five practical outputs to help build understanding and ensure innovation delivers improvements for all consumers:

  1. A set of 18 recommendations - Taken together these form a new framework that can catalyse effective innovation for energy customers in vulnerable situations
  2. A sustainability First Vulnerability Innovation Flight Path - This new tool will help companies put the needs of vulnerable customers at the heart of their businesses
  3. Four practical guides to standard, good, and innovative practice to help companies and others improve service delivery and quality of life in the following areas:
    • Identifying customers with additional needs
    • Improving access
    • Affordability – supporting customers on low incomes and in debt
    • Security and peace and peace of mind
  4. A high level overview of the current regulatory framework as it applies to innovation for customers in vulnerable situations. Each good practice guide also includes an overview of the main vulnerability obligations relating to that area
  5. A practical look at how smart innovations can better serve vulnerable customers, both today and tomorrow


Project Inspire – Energy for All Innovation Day


innovation day

It can be hard to decide what is standard, good and innovative practice in supporting customers in vulnerable situations. To ensure independent evaluation of our vulnerability case studies and to share and inform learning from Project Inspire – we hosted an Energy for All – Innovation Day in London in April 2017. In this Dragon’s Den style event 17 short-listed innovations were were judged by a panel of independent consumer organisations and more than 70 case studies were reviewed by around 40 participants from across industry and the third sector.

The independent consumer judges came from: Action on Hearing Loss; Age UK; British Red Cross; Citizens Advice; Mencap; National Energy Action, National Right to Fuel Campaign, RNIB, Scope and StepChange. We also used this day to check the categorisations of our case studies. To find out more see p.24 of the full report.

These independent judges then scored out of five the innovations and innovators were awarded Gold, Silver and Bronze Awards accordingly. Our thanks go to all the judges and participants on the day who made this a great learning event for all.

Watch a video from the day

It should be noted, there wasn’t always agreement on what was deemed to be good practice and effective innovation (as these two judges above illustrate with their scores). Even some of our award winning innovations split the panel/room.

Innovation Day Video