Utility Week

Utility Week 20th October 2017

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Page 25 of 31

26 | 20TH - 26TH OCTOBER 2017 | UTILITY WEEK Customers Market view T he government's Clean Growth Strat- egy reiterated that heat networks are an important part of the plan to reduce carbon emissions from the energy sector. This is in line with the Committee on Climate Change's analysis predicting that heat net- works could provide 18 per cent of the UK's heat demand by 2050. The government's Heat Networks Invest- ment Project offers the opportunity to cre- ate a step-change in the sector, with £320 million of dedicated funding for heat networks. The Scottish government also recently consulted on plans for dedi- cated heat network zones to facilitate deployment. Commitment to new investment in the sec- tor is encouraging. When designed, installed and operated well, heat net- works can provide reliable, low-carbon and cost-effective heat and hot water. Heat Trust's key concern is ensuring that heat networks deliver excellent out- comes for consumers. Heat network operators provide an essen- tial service to thousands of homes across the country. With government funding supporting the market's growth, it is vital that these heat networks demonstrate that they can deliver for customers. This means going beyond the theory outlined in design briefs and plan- ning applications, and demonstrating that consumers receive a service they can trust. Heat Trust, a stakeholder-led customer protection scheme, was launched in 2015 and sets robust customer service standards for the heat network sector, building on standards in the gas and electricity markets. We believe that all heat networks should be required to meet the standards set by Heat Trust as a condition for receipt of public funding. This would ensure that customers, regardless of which heat networks they live on, are assured a consistent level of service. Heat suppliers can further tailor their service by building upon these standards. The scheme, which already covers 51 heat networks and more than 30,000 customers, provides an independent dispute resolution service for consumers through an agreement with the Energy Ombudsman. Heat Trust works with its stakeholder committee to monitor customer service performance and identify ways to drive up service standards. There is little publicly available informa- tion on heat networks and currently no con- crete figures on the number of networks in the UK, the tenures they serve and the stand- ards of service each network is meeting. A key aim of Heat Trust, therefore, is to help improve transparency in the market. By monitoring the heat networks registered with Heat Trust, we are starting to build an evidence base on how heat networks are per- forming and the service that customers are receiving. Through its first annual report, published this month, Heat Trust gives a snapshot into the issues that are concerning customers and shines a light on to areas where attention should be focused to support customer ser- vice improvements. The report showed that 1,417 complaints were resolved by heat suppliers registered with the scheme. A total of 73 complaints were referred to the Energy Ombudsman from customers on 24 heat networks registered with Heat Trust between November 2015 and December 2016. Of all the complaints resolved by the Energy Ombudsman, nearly three-quarters of people accepted the Energy Ombudsman's decision. Almost three quarters (74 per cent) of complaints related to issues around billing or back-billing. More than half of complaints about billing related to standing charges (54 per cent). Complaints also indicate that cus- tomers are not always informed that a prop- erty is on a heat network prior to moving in. The report found that clear communica- tion and more transparency on heat charges are key to improving cus- tomer satisfaction moving forward. Heat Trust believes that industry, developers, land- lords and estate agents should work collabora- tively to ensure a consist- ent approach to informing customers when a heat net- work is present. This would involve supplying custom- ers with the current tariff details and a sample heat supply agreement prior to their agreeing to purchase or rent a property. The report also found variations on how data metrics are interpreted by different sup- pliers, highlighting the need for an industry- wide performance framework. Heat Trust has urged the Association for Decentralised Energy to continue its work on a technical compliance framework for the sector, which will include performance metrics. Heat networks have the potential to play a major role in the decarbonisation of heat- ing, providing reliable, low-carbon and cost-effective heat and hot water. If the mar- ket is to grow, however, the issues around communication and transparency must be overcome. The heat network industry has an unprec- edented opportunity to be a major part of the transition to a low-carbon energy system in the UK. Technology and funding are pav- ing the way to an exciting future, but it is consumers that will give us the mandate to change. We must not forget that. Bindi Patel, head of scheme, Heat Trust Getting a handle on heat The infant heat networks sector needs better metrics around deployment, effectiveness and customer service if it is to realise its potential. This is where Heat Trust comes in, says Bindi Patel. "By monitoring the heat networks registered with Heat Trust, we are starting to build an evidence base on how heat networks are performing and the service that customers are receiving"

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