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Engaging with residents: Importance of doing it early

Posted by Kirsty Lambert

A community heating scheme can bring enormous benefits to residents and the environment, but for the best results heat consumers need to be well informed, and shown how to get the best out of the system.

Early engagement

To ensure this, project developers should help educate residents through direct contact and written material before and after installation. They should cover the benefits of community heating and issues such as billing, communication and operation.

Before a resident moves in, it should be made very clear that the property is part of a communal heating system. New builds and any new residents moving into existing systems, should be provided with a full introduction, detailing how it works and why their home is part of the system.

Pending regulation for customer protection

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), earlier this year put forward their recommendations that the sector should be regulated by a public-sector body. This would have the power to set regulation, monitor compliance, and enforce against heat network operators that do not comply with regulation. However, this could take time before regulation is put in place.

Billing: The most important touchpoint for residents

Among the most important elements of any scheme is billing, and residents need to be made aware of pricing structure, especially if tariffs include a fixed price component. All consumers need to know what they are paying for, and a clear explanation can avoid confusion and improve collection rates. This can also help residents to control their expenditure more effectively and - as smart meters are introduced more widely - information on how to use them should also be provided in order to gain full benefit.

The Heat Trust, the resident’s watchdog organisation provides a comparison price, calculated to represent the cost of a conventional boiler usage at the same level. It is hoped that this will show how much money the resident is saving, helping educate them to the financial benefits of installing community heating.

No heat and hot water - protecting the customer

Emergency and maintenance procedures should also be made available to residents, so they know what to do if they have problems with the system. Being made aware of planned maintenance enables residents to plan for any inconvenience. This helps give consumers a greater sense of security and control.

The key to success: Customer communications

It goes without saying that effective communication is key to good relations between heat providers and residents. All heat consumers should be shown the options available to communicate with the heat system operators, which may include the use of social media or email.

Residents also need to know who to contact regarding questions over bills or other administrative issues, as well as the procedures to be followed in the case of late payments or payment disputes.

It is important for residents to understand that community heating systems are a key plank in the government’s plans to meet the country’s climate change goals, as enshrined in the Climate Change Act 2008 and the global Paris agreement. Heat networks are expected to make a substantial contribution to reducing carbon dioxide emissions, and represent one of the few ways to reduce emissions from heating, which is still dominated by gas in the UK.

Renewable - or combined heat and power - community heating cuts greenhouse emissions and each resident is doing their bit for a sustainable world.

Takeaways

  • To get the most from community heating systems residents need to be informed.
  • There needs to be a clear understanding of billing structure, avoiding confusion and improving control.
  • Residents should be shown, where possible, the savings they are making over conventional heating.
  • Residents need to be made aware of procedures and communication channels.
  • All should be educated to as to the contributing they are making to a more sustainable future, and what that means for the planet.

Heat Network Regulations Download

Kirsty Lambert

Business Development Director at Switch2

A skilled director and leader with both operational and commercial experience, Kirsty has over 10 years’ experience in the community and district heating industry.

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