Smart Systems and Heat – Phase 2: Key Insights
Digital technology has the potential to make low carbon heat a better, more consumer-friendly option for all UK households. The Smart Systems and Heat (SSH) programme has focused on learning how to enable the market to deliver this.
The UK’s 27 million households will need to rapidly adopt new low carbon heat solutions through the 2020s and 2030s if we are to meet our carbon budgets. Heating buildings accounts for nearly a fifth of UK emissions.
Attractive solutions will need to meet consumers’ varied needs so that people will want to install them in homes and properties. The transition to low carbon heat will be challenging but the UK supply chain can also benefit from major opportunities for innovation in technologies and business models.
The SSH programme addresses this challenge by building:
• Deep understanding and evidence around consumer needs and how to harness low carbon solutions;
• Key tools and capabilities to help industry, local authorities and policymakers.
Building on the early work on consumers and local energy analysis delivered in Phase 1 of the SSH programme, Phase 2 (SSH2) has focused on:
• Building in-depth insights about consumer-focused ‘smart energy services’ (i.e. tailored service propositions enabled by digital controls and sensors); and
• Creating capabilities to support and accelerate the uptake of low-carbon heating technologies across the UK.
1. Consumer trials of smart energy propositions
SSH2 trials confirmed that smart energy services enabled by digital controls can transform mainstream consumers’ experience and control of heating at home, and thus better enable them to adopt lower carbon solutions.
Usage data can reveal consumers’ preferences and underpin improved design of low carbon solutions. Better design, integration and attractive propositions can address key barriers to the uptake of low carbon heating solutions and drive a stronger consumer pull for them:
- Around 50% of Living Lab households elected to trial Heat as a Service;
- 78% of Living Lab households confirmed that smart heating controls improved or maintained comfort levels (eg. 56% improved, 22% maintained and 22% worse).
- 85% of Living Lab households trialling Heat as a Service were open to switching to low carbon heating when it came time to replace their boiler – compared to around a third of the general population – as long as current levels of comfort and cost could be guaranteed.
- Trials confirmed the complexity, cost and challenge of building real understanding of the home environment, consumer needs and behaviour; but the trial experience equally demonstrated the value and insight generated by testing new propositions and technologies in mainstream consumers’ homes.
- This suggests that the creation of a large-scale trial environment in mainstream consumers’ homes will be a major national asset both for innovators and business in the UK supply chain, and to inform future UK heat decarbonisation strategy.
2. Local area energy planning
Local area energy planning could be a key tool to enable the UKs transition to a low carbon future, by enabling local government to identify the most promising, cost effective options for decarbonisation whilst highlighting where investment is needed.
- Local area energy planning can build on the insight and understanding gained from whole systems analysis and modelling applied at a local area level.
- Developing actionable Smart Energy Plans like those developed under SSH2 helps local authorities to define a concrete agenda for decarbonisation, aligned with the specific local infrastructure requirements, socio-economic priorities (e.g. job creation, fuel poverty, etc.) and emission reduction targets.
- The experience in working with three local authorities (Newcastle, Bridgend and Bury in Great Manchester) has shown the value of planning at a local level to identify the most cost-effective mix of low carbon choices tailored to local circumstances.
3. Market transformation (new business models and market structures)
Digitalisation of home energy can enable radical new ‘smart energy service’ business models. These could combine deep and differentiated learning about consumer needs with smart and targeted control. Smart controls coupled with data analytics can reveal the varied detail of consumer preferences and building requirements, enabling better outcomes for households and for the wider energy system. This includes greater system flexibility, better management of peaks in the power sector and cost-effective decarbonisation.
- Smart energy service business models can also align incentives throughout energy product and service supply chains, to improve integration and deliver better consumer experience. The way that service propositions are presented to consumers, and their early experience with them, is crucial in building demand for smart energy services that can enable low carbon solutions.
- Ensuring the interoperability of controls, devices and interfaces will be vital to support consumer choice and competition by reducing the risk of lock in to proprietary platforms. The example of other industries suggests some form of industry standards or regulation may be needed to unleash the full potential of a digitalised energy systems.
- An outcome-based decarbonisation standard or obligation on future retailers or home energy service providers could incentivise the market to deliver tailored and integrated solutions that work for consumers, localities and the broader energy system. There is a strong case for further detailed exploration and trialling of policy options