Delivered as part of the Energy-PIECES project this report was developed during a secondment at the Energy Savings Trust.

Authors: George Warren and Chris Foulds

This report focuses on English domestic energy advice, and has three key aims: provide an overview of the history of energy policy including advice in the UK and current advice offerings, review the academic literature on the merits and drawbacks of providing energy advice, and a review of what should be considered to provide more effective energy advice to householders.

The report finds that the impact of domestic energy advice on energy saving is patchy and contested, with no clear definition or appreciation of qualitative benefits or costs of its impact. Generally, there is a consensus in the literature away from a ‘deficit model’ approach to energy advice provision: that solely providing information to householders will not result in a real reduction in their energy use. Despite this, multiple meta-analyses and systematic literature reviews find that energy advice does have a positive impact on domestic energy demand reduction, albeit varying depending on advice methods and characteristics.

The content one aims to communicate truly matters. Here, studies found that traditional monetary approaches were often the least successful to motivating energy demand reduction, and that approaches focusing on non-monetary frames such as environmental impact, personal comfort, or home improvement may be more impactful. Further, the use of tailored messaging based on householder characteristics is broadly seen as vital to providing useful advice. Recent findings in the literature about the connection of energy advice to other kinds of advice, such as home improvement and ‘know-how’ show that energy advice should be part of a wider system of home advice offered to improve lived experience as well as reductions in bills and GHG emissions.

Alongside content communicated, a body of research has studied who is the source of the information, and why. The effect of an energy advisor’s message is heavily mediated by trust: both in terms of trustworthiness and perceived expertise. Viewing energy advice actors in this way highlights why the use of independent, non-profit organisations are often the most relied upon, and why more focus on the ‘advice chain’ such as local contractors, community groups and local authorities is needed for greater engagement on the ground.

The process by which advice on domestic energy saving is communicated to householders is vital. Here, a great number of existing methods of advice provision reveal both benefits and drawbacks. Among traditional processes of energy advice, personal and proactive interaction will always be more effective than reactive interaction, however prove relatively more expensive to roll-out. With new technologies such as smart meters providing more opportunities for feedback, a mixed-method approach could prove the most effective. Additionally, a more holistic view at the entire business model of the energy retrofit supply chain including advice within in-home assessments could reap benefits in promoting larger-scale and deeper retrofits in the UK using alternative business models.

Finally, consideration to different groups must be undertaken with energy advice and wider domestic energy policy. One-size-fits-all, low-cost and isolated approaches are unlikely to engage all segments of householders. Considering the impact and methods of advice on fuel poor, able-to-pay owner-occupiers, landlords, and social housing is extremely important to wider engagement and scheme uptake and should be integrated into every policy appraisal and advice method.