Topic: Here comes the sun – building energy resilience – Nicolette Fox, University of Sussex
Date: Wednesday 25 April 2018
Time: 1.00pm for 1.15-3.00pm
Location: B407 Checkland Building, Falmer Campus, University of Brighton, Brighton, BN1 9PH
Summary: What happens when you give families, living with prepayment electricity meters, the opportunity to be able to produce and consume – ‘prosume’ – their own solar power? How would they adapt their day-to-day routines to capture solar power given that its generation is influenced by weather, seasons and changing daylight hours? What impact would it have on their domestic life, finances, resilience and well-being? Could prosuming change the way the households engage with energy – offering them resilience to the often constant demand to ‘feed’ the meter?
Well the money I save [means]… I won’t have to eat into my food budget… the saving on my electric will go extra onto my gas so then I won’t be running out and I can afford to heat my home then.
In the stress level … it works wonders. If there’s only a couple of pounds on the [prepayment electricity meter] I know it’s going to be fine until tomorrow. I haven’t got to panic about …keep checking it…These aspects are major, major improvements for us.
There have been times when I couldn’t afford to do their washing. I’ve done it flipping hand washing just because I couldn’t afford to run the washing machine, but now I haven’t got to worry about that… ‘Right kids, chuck it in!’
For my doctoral research I had the privilege of finding out answers to these questions by following the solar stories of seven families over ten months. All households became ‘prosumers’ following the offer of free solar panels by their social housing provider. And yet at the outset many of the households ignored the offer as solar panels were associated with ‘posh’ people, not those who considered themselves ‘poor’.
However, what was striking from the research was how quickly this meaning changed and with that came a growing sense of solar entitlement. As panels appeared on roofs, households developed know-how, and friends shared solar stories, so the social and physical fabric of the community started to transform. Not only did this result in increasing energy resilience but also a desire, among a number of the households, to share the home-made power within their community as one woman explained:
I mean I’ve got a friend who lives over the back, she’s on her own with two kids. She’d benefit from using that, you know, free electricity… there’s a lot of people round here that would benefit from using that electricity.
Biography: As a child, I could feel the frosty windowpanes and see the sun tracking around the house bringing warmth to cold quarters. Hear the wind whistling around the house killing off fledging fires and smell the acrid soot being pushed back down the chimney. At the same time, the living room fire provided warmth, cosiness and a focal point for family life. Knowing energy meant waking up your senses.
But knowing energy was also about working out whether there were enough coins in the prepayment electricity meter to cook dinner or heat a room for half an hour. It also involved trying to squirrel away 50 pence pieces to avoid the embarrassment of a blackout with friends.
I share my energy story because it is part of the doctoral journey I undertook. It underlines why this research was so important to me, as was ensuring that it was not confined to an academic audience. I was fortunate that three local authorities used the findings to help improve their solar PV rollout programme amongst social housing tenants. Additionally, I produced a booklet with the families in my study who were keen to share their knowledge with others.
Today I am very fortunate that my life is both physically and metaphorically much more insulated, and yet this journey has also helped me develop a degree of resilience. Following a career as a journalist and as a communications professional, I am now working as a Research Fellow for the Science Policy Research Unit at the University of Sussex. My current research is examining water sustainability and affordability issues amongst social housing tenants.
As a researcher, I am interested in exploring questions of resilience and resource issues within communities, and the potential for co-producing creative outputs. Additionally, I am also looking at methodological questions around conducting academic studies within disadvantaged communities in this country.
Please feel free to get in touch if you are would like to find out more about my research or are interested in similar issues! – Dr Nicolette Fox firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo credit: Good Light by Willie Robb www.willierobb.com
Who might be most interested: Academics, practitioners, researchers, parents/carers, community workers, volunteers, public sector workers, young people.
Travel Information: For details of where to find us please see this map (external link). The Falmer Campus is well-served by public transport (25 bus and Falmer train station).
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