Open Search Partner with DCC

Addressing fuel poverty: using data for public good

Britain’s energy infrastructure is the last of the great analogue systems. In five years our energy network will be unrecognisable from today. Data lies at the heart of this change and used well, will improve lives.
Elderly man using technology

The current picture

Britain's relationship with energy is changing. Generation, distribution, demand and supply – Britain's 2050 net zero goal means every element is being re-engineered and re-imagined.

Digitisation is powering this transformation and data lies at its heart – with more and more data being generated every day. Millions of messages are sent on DCCs network each month , and over the next 5 years the number will grow massively as more meters are connected.

Smart meters are already benefiting society and improving millions of lives.

To unlock maximum benefit from system data will take unprecedented levels of co-operation across government and industry.

DCC's work with the Connected Places Catapult is a successful example of how collaboration can lead to great outcomes.

Fuel poverty statistics

According to UK Goverment statistics, as of 2020 there were an estimated 3.16 million households in fuel poverty in England - and energy costs have only continued to rise.

Working together

The partnership has seen DCC combine its deep energy sector domain expertise with the Connected Places Catapult’s extensive experience in investigating the value and feasibility of appropriately using data to solve place-based challenges.

DCC has built and maintains the network that connects consumers’ smart meters to energy retailers and district network operators. On top of its core responsibilities, the DCC is working with government and industry to identify mandates for re-using the network. This could include utilising the system data that is communicated across its network for public-good uses.

To better understand what those uses might be, in 2019 the DCC worked with Connected Places Catapult - the UK’s innovation accelerator for cities, transport, and places. Funded in part by Innovate UK, Connected Places Catapult impartially supports organisations to develop and implement technology to address challenges facing places in the UK.

Connected Places Catapult began by working closely with the DCC to map the data inventory, making sense of what anonymous system data was available to them. With convening support from the Energy Systems Catapult, a series of interviews with energy sector stakeholders was undertaken to build a robust understanding of the sector’s major pain points and opportunity areas. This helped to focus the extremely broad application potential of the DCC’s system data towards a longlist of clearly defined use cases.

How to tackle fuel poverty in Britain

The list of use cases resulting from our initial data discovery and market engagement was wide-ranging, from water metering to healthcare.

DCC felt that given its clear focus on public good, the opportunity it offered to create new and innovative data science methodologies, and the benefits it could generate for energy retailers and their customers, one use case stood out.  Using smart meter system data to more accurately identify those in or at risk from fuel poverty, resulting in the more efficient delivery of support schemes for households in fuel poverty.

Further work was needed to validate the use case and investigate the feasibility of building an identification methodology that was innovative, ethically appropriate and genuinely useful to users.

The use case was a great fit for Modernising Energy Data Applications a BEIS and Ofgem sponsored innovation competition, funded by UKRI.

In response to the call, DCC worked with a great consortium, led by Urban Tide – bringing together fuel poverty domain experts, practitioners of largescale energy sector initiatives and data scientists to create the winning bid – uSmart: Zero.

A force for public good

We believe that uSmart:Zero is a great example of how improving data access could help accelerate the nation’s efforts to reach Net Zero. Our aspiration is to start by opening up smart meter system data in a secure, fair and equitable way to allow organisations to analyse it and combine it with other data for the purposes of public good.

But to achieve this vision we need a more inclusive approach. By operating as a system data exchange, we can deliver greater access to a broader spectrum of data to the most diverse range of users. This is the best approach to using data to take on society’s big challenges.

We know there’s some big thinking to be done and it’s not an activity we can, or should, do alone. 

Relationships like we have with the Connected Places Catapult are one way to achieve our goals. We hope the Modernising Data Applications initiative builds momentum behind our work and together we have applied for a second phase of funding to continue the project. If successful we will be able to build a prototype which will guide future product development. This would present an important step in harnessing the power of data on our network to connect Britain and help people lead smarter, greener lives.

Meet the author

Matt James

Business Development Manager at the DCC

Meet the author

James Richards

Applied Data and Technology at the Connected Places Catapult

Connected Places Catapult

Connected Places Catapult is the UK's innovation accelerator for cities, transport & place leadership.

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Further reading

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