Isolated householders in parts of rural Scotland, such as Stornoway, are being encouraged to install renewable energy devices such as ground and air source heat pumps if they are not already connected to the gas grid. Representatives of Consumer Focus Scotland, Scotland’s consumer watchdog, attended the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations ‘Renewables Event’ in Edinburgh recently, where they presented the findings of recent research showing that both landlords and tenants can install renewable energy systems at a lower cost than conventional alternatives.

The report, entitled 21st Century Heating In Rural Homes, cited a number of cases where housing associations and local authorities are already using domestic solar panels, ground and air source heat pumps and community heating schemes. It also recommended that landlords support their tenants as they become accustomed to using the new systems, including arranging visits to houses where the technology is already installed and operational, providing clear information about the system and using simple controls. Such measures will ensure that the technology delivers the best possible performance and that teething problems are avoided. Consumer Focus Scotland is also calling on the Scottish government to incorporate such support measures into its funding plans for installing renewables as well as reporting on the results achieved.

As a result of increasingly high oil prices, renewable technology is becoming increasingly popular in Scotland, even though the high installation costs can act as a barrier to many people. Half of Scottish households in rural Scotland are suffering from fuel poverty and older houses, particularly those in rural areas, prevent the installation of modern loft and cavity wall insulation. Trish McAuley, Deputy Director of Consumer Focus Scotland, told The Stornoway Gazette recently that dealing with high fuel costs presents a daily struggle for many people across the country. “But we have found good examples of housing associations and local authorities helping households cut fuel bills through the use of renewables” she added. “The research shows that it is vital that tenants using these systems for the first time get all the information they need so that they can have complete confidence in renewables. We would encourage landlords to gather case study evidence to show the impact on tenants’ bills. Housing associations now have a clear window of opportunity at this early stage to share best practice and help ensure households in rural Scotland have heating fit for the 21st century.” She went on to state that Consumer Focus Scotland is working to ensure that energy efficiency schemes reach everyone without access to mains gas, particularly through the provision of renewables and accompanying support.

David Stewart, Policy & Strategy Manager at the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations, said that his organisation is aware of fuel poverty and realises it is an increasingly serious issue for tenants as the price of conventional domestic energy rises above inflation. “The issue is particularly acute in homes that are not on the mains gas network” he said. “We are therefore delighted that Consumer Focus Scotland has highlighted the outstanding work of SFHA members in developing renewables schemes that cut tenants heating bills and reduce carbon emissions.We look forward to working with members, Consumer Focus Scotland and other partners to build on this work and share the learning and experience of organisations.”

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