Bromford Living Lab: Turning up the heat on fuel poverty

The Bromford Living Lab is set to improve heat services as part of a new scheme for households at risk of fuel poverty.

Bromford Housing Association to join 100-home Living Lab

Innovative housing association Bromford are set to explore how smart heating can improve comfort, control and cost for households at risk of fuel poverty – while providing vital data on the thermal performance of homes.

Bromford has joined Energy Systems Catapult’s test and demonstration environment – the Living Lab – where 100 real-world homes from around the UK are upgraded with sensors and smart heating to provide room-by-room temperature control linked to a data science research platform.

Dr Rose Chard from Energy Systems Catapult’s Fair Futures programme said: “emerging smart technologies promise to revolutionise how consumers buy and use energy at home – particularly with the growth of low carbon energy.

“There is great potential for these innovations to help vulnerable households at risk of fuel poverty to get better control over comfort and cost.

“But there is also a risk that some vulnerable people – with health conditions, on low incomes, without access to the internet, or who speak English as a second language – may not benefit or could even be harmed. The best way to demonstrate that new innovations will work for vulnerable households is to design it with them.

“For example, 9% of people have never used the internet, 13% of people don’t have access to the internet and 20% don’t have broadband, so despite the many benefits of smart heating, we need to ensure emerging digital systems are not a barrier to accessing energy.

“The Living Lab is a national asset open to UK businesses to come and design, test and launch smart energy products and services that help to deliver a low carbon energy system at least cost to consumers.”

The Living Lab

Now into its third winter, the Living Lab has:

  • 100 homes spread around the UK in Newcastle, Manchester, Wales and the South West.
  • Households from a range of income levels but this year expanded to include a people using a range of energy bill payment methods (including prepayment meters), people with long-term health conditions and people living in social housing,
  • Run trials with innovative UK companies testing new products and services, such as:
    • hybrid-heat pumps,
    • heat-as-a-service offerings for both energy suppliers and heating technology manufacturers, plus
    • unique inventions, including an intelligent airbrick that helps prevent damp problems from emerging.

The Catapult has also worked with Citizen’s Advice to help them understand emerging risks and opportunities for smart heating services.

Bromford housing innovation

A number of Bromford households are joining the Living Lab to help them better understand how outcomes for residents can be improved; further enhancing their growing reputation for using customer-led innovation

“Bromford is excited to be taking our user-centred approach a step further by working with Energy Systems Catapult in their Living Lab,” said Tom Hartland from the Bromford ‘Innovation and Design’ team.

“Catapult research tells us that different people heat their home in quite different ways.

“We hope to better understand how people are heating their homes, what people want from their heating systems in different types of properties and how we can support customers to improve control over comfort and energy costs.

“Additionally, we want to better understand how we can utilise the data from smart devices to better maintain and improve our properties, such as providing early warning of high humidity levels, which can lead to damp problems.

“This in turn could help to improve the health outcomes for our customers.”

Dr Chard continued: “There is a great opportunity for social and affordable housing providers to lead the way in ensuring smart heating systems are designed so that high levels of digital literacy are not a barrier to accessing energy and indeed will improve levels of comfort.

“We hope working with Bromford will help us answer some important questions.”

Learn more about the Living Lab here.

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