Decarbonising heat for energy justice to vulnerable customers


Samantha Nicol, head of innovation at Bristol Energy explores measures being implemented by the utility to ensure no customer is left behind on the journey to net-zero.

Decarbonisation of heat is a topic that’s heating up.

Heat represents circa 30% of UK emissions and is generally viewed as hard to tackle. Household emissions from heating and hot water must reduce by 95% to reach net-zero targets. In order to achieve this, we need to innovate and change the way we heat our homes.

But getting 22 million households to swap their gas boiler to something greener when there are over 2.5 million people living in fuel poverty in the UK, is no easy task.

No customer is the same

It’s important to recognise that there is no one size fits all solution when you’re dealing with customers. At Bristol Energy, our view is that we need to find solutions that work for everyone, not just early adopters of technology.

Vulnerability is no longer a minority consideration in the UK and cannot be ignored when working in energy innovation.

1 in 4 UK residents will experience poor mental health every year, 21% of adults don’t have basic digital skills and 10% are not online (Office for National Statistics, 2018).

Our solutions need to be inclusive if we are to engage our whole customer base. We need to make sure these customer groups are protected from changes in energy infrastructure; ensuring their health, wellbeing and energy bills are protected, if not improved.

We must listen to our customers, and understand their individual needs in order to “find a path that goes with the grain of human nature, rather than trying to change it” as Dr Rose Chard put it.

Our work with Energy Systems Catapult on their Living Lab is trying to do just that. Once we understand energy behaviour more thoroughly, we can begin to tailor products and services to suit different customers, helping them decarbonise within their remit.


Bristol Energy’s trial product ‘Heat-as-a-Service’ was conceived to explore this idea.

The goal with Heat-as-a-Service is to design a proposition that will give customers a warm and comfortable home by using the insights we collect through smart technology. We are then able to recommend the right energy efficiency improvements to customers and alert homes that might be suitable to convert to low-carbon heating sources. It’s still early days as we make this kind of proposition fit for purpose, but our initial findings look promising.

Bristol Energy looking ahead

Our heat innovations are in their infancy, but with an industry-wide transition over the next decade, there’s a real opportunity to build a system that works for everyone, and prevent vulnerable customers falling into fuel poverty. These new technologies have the potential to create warm homes, for less money, whilst better protecting the planet. It’s an incredible opportunity to tackle both climate change and social inequality in the same breath.”

Enlit Europe will gather in Milan between 30 November and 02 December 2021 and will feature innovative companies accelerating decarbonisation at Europe’s largest gathering of companies driving and leading the energy transition. Are you going to be there?
Click here to join us in Milan.