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Vulnerable customers at risk of missing out as energy transition takes hold

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Innovations to help vulnerable energy customers are at risk of sliding down supplier agendas as a result of the sheer pace of change elsewhere, a new report has warned.

This week Sustainability First published its Project Inspire summary report, published on the back of a study into how innovations in the energy market could help improve services and quality of life for energy customers, particularly those in vulnerable situations or with additional needs. 

Arguing that the industry is on the “cusp of a digital revolution” that stood to “fundamentally change” the generation, supply, use and settlement of power, Project Inspire has been launched to ensure that all consumers experience the benefits of that change.

Its report examined a number of innovation projects launched by suppliers, including those that ensured customers with disabilities were not excluded from certain innovations and those that looked to incorporate customers at risk of fuel poverty.

But while the report found “pockets of real innovation”, it concluded that most progress is incremental rather than wholesale, and that experience of energy companies sharing innovations or best practice was limited.

It also warned that innovations to help vulnerable customers were at significant risk of slipping down company agendas as they prioritised challenges elsewhere.

“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,” Zoe McLeod, the report’s author, said.

The report puts forward a total of 18 recommendations for energy suppliers, regulators and transmission/distribution network operators, including further published details on the benefits of smart meters and how to access them and ways of “minimising the digital divide” to ensure that smart technology features are accessible.

Attending the report’s launch this week was Ofgem chief executive Dermot Nolan, who echoed the report’s sentiments that the UK’s energy system was undergoing a “significant transformation”.

“It’s understandable to be excited about the technological advances which are making this possible. What gets less attention however is how new ‘smart’ and digital technologies can improve the everyday lives of vulnerable energy consumers,” Nolan said.

Nolan did however have tougher words for companies contributing to the report, particularly those suggesting that squeezing profits by means of a price cap could result in fewer commitments to innovations.

“Suppliers should not doubt that price regulation cannot be an excuse to ignore their obligations to vulnerable customers

“Change is coming to the energy sector. Whether companies like it or not, Ofgem will make sure that this is a positive change for vulnerable customers,” Nolan concluded. 

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