Exploring the links between energy efficiency and health

Exploring the links between energy efficiency and health
28th September 2016 david

The RCUK Centre for Energy Epidemiology contributes to government actions to improve health and prevent illness by understanding the direct and indirect effects of energy efficiency on health – blog post by James O’Toole, EUED Coordinator. RCUK End Use Energy Demand (EUED) Centre website.

Using energy efficiency as a measure to improve health is increasing. Examples of measures so far carried out include the ‘prescription’ of boilers for patients’ homes on the NHS and NICE guidelines on preventing ‘excess winter deaths and illness’.

Linking the data

By analysing data on health and buildings, researchers are able to show that the cost of improving the central heating in patients’ homes could be significantly less than the cost of their continued medical treatment, medication, hospital stays and so on. This energy efficiency and health impact work is an example of the EUED Centres’ cross-cutting, interdisciplinary research leading to new perspectives on how to address energy demand – and sometimes boost quality of life in the process.

Members of the CEE team (based at UCL Energy Institute and led by Professor Tadj Oreszczyn) along with colleagues in the UCL Institute for Environment Design and Engineering (led by Professor Mike Davies) and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, worked with the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC)’s fuel poverty team to calculate the impact of energy efficiency measures on healthcare costs.

The work was subsequently integrated into DECC’s policy evaluation, including the National Household Model(DECC’s computer model of Great Britain’s housing stock). Put simply, the National Household Model uses data from energy and buildings research and surveys to estimate energy use and costs over time.

NICE work

CEE’s research also impacted on the NHS National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE)’s assessment of the cost effectiveness of energy efficiency as a means of improving health. NICE seek to improve health and social care through implementing guidance from evidence-based research. NICE clearly recognise the link between fuel poverty – especially in the elderly and other vulnerable groups – and illness (including excessive winter deaths) and offer recommendations to health practitioners as to how to address these serious issues.

Dr Ian Hamilton, of the CEE centre said “Energy efficiency in housing plays an important role in meeting our climate change mitigation targets. Beyond energy and greenhouse gas emission savings, energy efficiency can also have a tangible benefit to people’s health and wellbeing. If properly implemented alongside ventilation, energy efficiency retrofits in housing can improve health by reducing exposure to cold and air pollutants.”

Medical journals

The team’s work on health has led to research being published in the prestigious British Medical Journal and the BMJ Open Journal. The team has also contributed its research to international collaborations, including the International Energy Agency’s ‘Multiple Benefits of Energy Efficiency Report’ and the World Health Organisation’s ‘Global Report on Urban Health’.

This take-up of research evidence by government agencies indicates the importance of end use energy demand research in making real changes to people’s lives through the application of research findings. The work is ongoing and there is still much to do to increase the accuracy of the models, but the CEE team are working with government, health and other academic partners to link existing health, energy, building and fuel poverty intervention data to be able to demonstrate the health impact of energy efficiency.