Horizon CDT Research Highlights

Research Highlights

Decarbonising Nottingham’s Housing Stock: Integrating Built Environment, Sociodemographic and Behavioural Data to Achieve Equitable Decarbonisation Routes

  Torran Semple (2021 cohort)

This PhD aims to develop policy interventions that aid the decarbonisation of Nottingham’s housing stock while also considering the implications of new housing policy on fuel poverty. Upgrading the energy efficiency of Nottingham’s housing stock constitutes a vital facet of Nottingham City Council’s (NCC) decarbonisation plan. In fact, the heating of houses alone contributes ~25% of citywide emissions in Nottingham (NCC, 2020). The primary heating type is mains gas (i.e., natural gas) in ~80% of homes in Nottingham. Given that natural gas is a potent fossil fuel, housing policy in Nottingham and across the UK should prioritise the installation of low-carbon or renewable energy home heating systems to reduce housing emissions. Failure to reduce the current overreliance on gas boilers will also leave the public vulnerable to highly volatile gas prices. In addition, the Consumer Prices Index (CPI), which is the metric used by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) to gauge the annual change in cost of living, rose 4.9% from January 2021 to January 2022 (ONS, 2022).  The combined effects of an inefficient housing stock, increased energy costs and record rises in the cost of living are likely to plunge more households into fuel poverty.

This project’s research questions are as follows:

  1. Can fuel poverty/vulnerability be predicted on a house-by-house or street-by-street basis via the integration of built environment, socioeconomic and demographic data?
  2. Does behavioural variation in energy consumption patterns significantly increase a household’s risk of fuel poverty?
  3. How might large-scale retrofits (e.g., replacing most gas-based heating systems with low-carbon alternatives) affect levels of fuel poverty and housing emissions?
  4. How do recent rises in the cost of living affect the way in which people consume energy and what is the trade-off with other essential expenses, e.g., food and transport?

Research Question 1 will investigate the level of granularity required to provide socially and environmentally effective policy interventions. The literature suggests that the most relevant data required to achieve this are related to built environment characteristics (e.g., quality and energy efficiency of homes), socioeconomic status (household income) and demographic information (e.g., age, ethnicity, gender) about the occupants (Belaïd, 2018). Following the integration of these data, a mapping tool will be developed to identify the areas of Nottingham at greatest risk. Research Question 2 will require the collection or acquisition of energy consumption data to investigate how behavioural variation affects the risk of fuel poverty. This may require the physical installation of sensors in households or the acquisition of energy consumption records from energy providers. Research Question 3 will forecast the impact of large-scale retrofits (e.g., replacing all gas boilers in social houses) on fuel poverty and carbon emissions, via building simulation software and statistical forecasting methods. Lastly, Research Question 4 will attempt to determine the spending trade-offs made by Nottingham residents given the rising cost of living and quickly rising energy prices. This will also provide useful insights into other types of poverty, such as food insecurity.

References

Belaïd, F., 2018. Exposure and risk to fuel poverty in France: Examining the extent of the fuel precariousness and its salient determinants. Energy policy, Volume 114, pp. 189-200.

NCC, 2020. Carbon Neutral Nottingham - 2020 – 2028 Action Plan. [Online]
Available at: https://www.nottinghamcity.gov.uk/media/2619917/2028-carbon-neutral-action-plan-v2-160620.pdf
[Accessed November 2021].

ONS, 2022. Inflation and price indices. [Online]
Available at: https://www.ons.gov.uk/economy/inflationandpriceindices
[Accessed February 2022].