Monday, 2 December 2013

Jack In The Green

If you do the Twitter thing, follow me at @hotpixUK
or LinkedIn here
The cost of heating our homes and the phrase 'Fuel Poverty' has gone mainstream lately, has it not?

I remember Ed Milibean being derided as a communist, at the labour conference, when he suggested freezing energy bills. Just 9 weeks later, our coalition government, always keen to encourage the free market, are quietly asking energy companies for restraint and considering shifting green taxes away from our bills. A saving of a whole £50 (barely 4% of the average bill). Not surprising most people are angry, not grateful.

Nobody I notice has been trampled in the rush to sign up to the 'Green Deal' either. An expensive scheme that barely 594 people in the UK had indicated interest and only '360 wished to proceed'. Window dressing at best, more than likely it costs more to administer than actual benefits achieved. It certainly was not the same as the solar PV gold-rush back in 2011. We narrowly missed leading a whole new innovative history there. Grab the Allen key people, hopefully we can rely on our favourite flat pack furniture shop to make PV sexy again -

Well what of our residents on the breadline? The ones spending far more than 10% on fuel and day to day deciding if to eat or to feed their expensive prepay meters? How should landlords tackle it? What can we all do to help? How can IT and systems help?

At first glance, there's plenty of silver bullets out there for sale. If you have deep pockets and not that bothered about integration that is. Even some 'energy' modules for better known third party asset applications, don't integrate too well together with their core applications. I won't embarrass anyone by naming them, but if you have purchased them, you have surely rumbled it by now. Even if you get that bit right, the elephant in the room is being able to mash up data with your housing management system, to obtain some decisive insights.

Last Friday I had a really productive day with some asset managers wrestling with energy efficiency in a rural setting. No surprise that residents cite high cost of heating their properties, as their number one concern. Not everyone is on mains gas and not everyone can have insulation due to asset archetypes and build standards. Oh, and budgets getting tighter, the board want more done with less. Have you got one like that? (Thought so).

Like in most asset teams these days, the EPC collection is building up. How can IT assist to support the asset team to reach their goals and pull the maximum residents out of fuel poverty?

Many RSLs I come across record a PDF of the EPC, the RDSAP rating (e.g. 49, band E) and date issued. Limiting details recorded to this, does however miss a trick. The EPC is a rich source of data to model. Capture a bit more of that data and we can turn that into some really useful insights. For example, the potential energy efficiency rating, standard recommended measures/indicative costs, typical energy bill savings etc. 

Recording against each EPC of these potential improvements can easily form the basis of our asset energy modelling. Most of the common integrated HMS systems out there (OpenHousing, Orchard, QLX, iWorld, UH etc) can be configured to record these against asset components and attributes. The extra admin of manual entry or the provision of a regular import (where your EPC supplier can provide it) of these fields, makes the job somewhat easier.

Once it's in your database, it's a relatively swift task to combine all related details in a database view to provide a helicopters eye view of your stock. By related details I mean HB status (full/partial/none), primary method of payment (Allpay, Direct Debit, Cash etc), recorded economic status (Inactive, retired, working full/part time etc), area, HO patch, asset archetype etc.

A bit of added work if you are lucky enough to have a GIS system or can find time on Google maps satellite view, can identify any of your south facing roofs, suitable for solar PV. While not the cash-cow it was, it's still an option to offset your residents fuel bills.

On sign up, you may well be helping your residents to account for their new tenancy/shared owner property, pointing them to the local credit union or other places. Data collected during this process could also assist in identifying need. Also the resident age range and type of household, most likely held within your contact details. IE young families, single disabled elderly etc.

In the future, energy companies may well also provide anonymised energy expenditure data to you about your residents. Coming soon the 'internet of things' (due before the 'Jetpacks' they promised hopefully), might allow us to also monitor usage by boiler, live room temperatures etc.  

As you probably realise, this creates access to a pretty comprehensive picture. So should we aim to do with your 'mash-up' view? Well, we can determine where the best result can be achieved for minimum outlay, for the most deserving residents. It creates a concrete case for expenditure for your board and the improvements that can be expected.

Each organisation will be different, but this joined up approach allows facts to drive the improvement process. Another way that housing IT can help make a difference to your residents lives

Read on to: Asking those questions - collecting satisfaction better

You can link with me on LinkedIn here - It would be great to connect !

Jethro Tull - Jack In The Green .

(c) Tony Smith, Acutance Consulting 07854-655009

PS As usual, if there are subjects you might like me to tackle on this blog, please get in touch and let me know!

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