Efforts must be taken to allay concerns at different consumer touch points during a potential transition of homes from natural gas to hydrogen, a report has said.
On 1 August, Wales and West Utilities (WWU) published a report, focused on ensuring customers – especially vulnerable ones – are supported through such a transition, which is set to present a range of challenges, all of which must be managed with care. Furthermore, with the diverse and dynamic nature of vulnerability, along with the subsequent barriers this can cause an individual, it deemed a “catch-all process” to be an unrealistic ambition at this stage. With 13.9mn people living in the UK with a disability, as well as 1 in 4 experiencing mental health issues, WWU commissioned Energy Systems Catapult to carry out a project to understand how a transition could work well with these vulnerable consumers.
It identified a series of key consumer touch points: a visit to a property to conduct an initial survey; preparatory works to appliances; the gas supply being disconnected; the supply of hydrogen being activated; and a final visit to conduct a safety check and complete final works. Many concerns were identified at each stage, including increased anxiety, the impact of any disruption to important daily routines, a range of potential cost implications for residents and the heightened risk of accident or injury due to a variety of impairments.
To mitigate these, three tiers of support were created – a lower tier, offered to everyone, with the others used for people with specific needs – including the provision of temporary equipment, help to access local community support, involving third parties to support consumers at certain points and, in some instances, offering to take the occupant away from the property while the work is ongoing.
It stressed that such measures should be considered as a foundation for the level of support networks that will be needed in the forthcoming domestic hydrogen trials, while recommending that the different consumer touch points and support offered at each stage should be kept constantly under review and refined based on feedback from those who deliver it and consumers in vulnerable situations.
It also went on to highlight several key steps that can be taken to maximise the likelihood for success, including a clear and transparent communication campaign; a broad range of support measures being made available, considering many variables influence what support is best for an individual; and to work closely with the affected community and maximise the value of the resources on offer. This, it explained, is as the process to convert a region to hydrogen requires the expertise and skillsets of a wide variety of individuals and organisations beyond those who operate the gas distribution networks.
It further warned of the need to look for vulnerabilities at every opportunity and be observant. This is as vulnerability is not static, though not always obvious either. The same vulnerability could affect different people in different ways, meaning that identifying those with additional needs to offer appropriate support will be an ongoing challenge.
It is also important to recognise that consumers will face challenges regardless of the support on offer and how unobtrusive the conversion could be. Any disruption to people’s daily routines will cause some level of anxiety and stress and, if not treated with sensitivity and understanding by those involved in the transition, the issue will be exacerbated. It is therefore key to show great patience and understanding throughout the process, ensuring that a transition of homes from natural gas to hydrogen is “the best possible experience”.