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Social Connect

Social connect is developing an innovative method for identifying customers who are in or at risk of fuel poverty. The new approach will help us deliver personalised support to up to 100,000 people each year.

Project-on-a-Page summary

Project data

Start date: 15/09/2021
End date: 28/02/2023
Budget: £520,000

Tackling fuel poverty is one of the four strategic focus areas of our Social Sustainability programme. In the future we’re expecting the number of customers we serve to grow, meaning identifying those who need extra support will be one of our key challenges.

Social connect is developing an innovative method for identifying customers who are in or at risk of fuel poverty. This will allow us to provide effective support to more vulnerable customers. At the moment, we work with local trusted organisations to reach roughly 800,000 vulnerable customers per year, of which 13,000 receive personalised support, like free information and advice on lowering fuel bills. With the new approach developed in Social Connect, we will increase the number of vulnerable customers who receive personalised support from 13,000 to 100,000 each year.

Social Connect is a collaborative project with the Energy Systems Catapult (ESC) and UrbanTide. The ESC have an existing deep understanding of vulnerability and fuel poverty, and their expertise will be invaluable in identifying and analysing data throughout the project. For more information about ESCs work in vulnerability, please see their recent report “How can innovation deliver a smart energy system that works for low income and vulnerable customers?

UrbanTide are experts in artificial intelligence (AI) and data science techniques, and will work closely with ESC to use their uSmart platform as a starting point from which to develop a tool that can predict, on a street-by-street level, the prevalence of customers in or at risk of fuel poverty.

The project is being carried out in several phases. The first is a data discovery phase. The purpose of this is to:

  • gather the key indicative behaviours for people in or entering fuel poverty
  • identify the accessible datasets to confirm what will be used in further tool development.

Subsequent project phases are design, development, testing and deployment.

Recent advancements in Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning means that tools such as uSmart have recently come to market that can can be applied in this type of project. The techniques applied in this project have not been applied before as they are emerging in the marketplace enabling the best possible detection and prediction.

The key data source that will be analysed in this project is from the Data Communications Company (DCC) system metadata. This contains information such as when emergency credit is activated or a prepayment meter is topped up, will be the best quality and most complete secure sharing of the data to date.  The release of such data is emerging along with Government guidelines for data protection, data sharing and sector specific initiatives such as the Energy Data Taskforce.

Social Connect is a truly unique project which we believe is a first of its kind globally, not just in the UK.

Throughout this project, we will develop a better understanding of the diversity of situations that can make a household fuel poor, and how those differences can be spotted using data. We will also learn more about how households themselves perceive their needs and the use of their data to support them.

Social Connect will develop a first of its kind consumer-led method to detect the risk of people falling into fuel poverty as well as experiencing fuel poverty. The project will harness the value of smart meter system data to accurately identify the incidence and risk of fuel poverty as part of a wider data integration solution.

Ultimately, the project will help us better target our support services so that a greater number of people can receive personalised support.

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