Philip Cole, BEIS
The Department of Business Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) are supporing investment in heat networks as a means of decarbonising heating. Heat Networks provide heat to multiple properties in a single building, or to multiple buildings via pipes from a central heat source. Heat networks are heat agnostic and therefore can take heat from a range of renewable sources. This is a small but growing market in the UK and is currently unregulated (unlike the rest of the heat and energy market) with no access to the energy ombudsman. This means that consumers living on heat networks have less protection.
Little was known about heat network consumers with only anecdotal evidence of consumer detriment available. Therefore in December 2016 BEIS commissioned a large scale quantitative research project to give a representative picture of consumer experiences.
The Heat Networks Consumer Survey (HNCS) consisted of a postal survey of heat networks consumers and a matched comparison sample from the general population. There is little data on heat network consumers and therefore the sample selection involved matching a number of data sources to determine heat network status. A pilot study was carried out to test the survey methodology.
Around 5500 responses to the main survey were received allowing for detailed analysis of consumer experiences and break downs into different sub-groups. The analysis focussed on three key themes: Technical service and system performance, Billing and pricing, and information provision and customer service. The results showed that largely heat network consumers were generally as satisfied as non-heat network consumers despite having quite different experiences. Common issues identified by heat network consumers in the survey included overheating, system outages and a lack of information provided. On the other hand, heat network consumers were less likely to experience under heating and paid on average lower bills for their heating (although there was considerable variability in prices).
The results of the survey have, for the first time, given an overview of the experiences of heat network consumers. The results of this survey are being used within BEIS to develop policy and ensure awareness of consumer concerns.
The results of this survey were published in December 2017 on gov.uk and coincided with the CMA’s announcement of their market study into heat networks.