Using the connected home to deliver low carbon energy services that people value

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Two new insight reports published today reveal that by reframing the terms of how we talk about and buy heat for our homes, we could accelerate the UK’s adoption of low carbon energy.

Consumers may be able to buy heat-as-a-service rather than simply purchasing units of fuels, as “smart home” technology allows energy providers to understand customers needs and design better low carbon heating solutions.

The insight reports released by the Energy Technologies Institute (ETI) are based on outputs from the Home Energy Management Systems and Consumer Behaviour Study projects, which form part of the Systems and Heat programme that is being delivered by the Energy Systems Catapult on behalf of the ETI.  They reveal consumers care little about how heat is delivered and more about their experiences using heat, such as enjoying a hot shower, using heat to relieve pain,  protecting homes from damp or having control over which parts of the house they heat and when.

Traditionally sold as a commodity in units of KWh, a measure that few people understand, using innovative “connected home” technology and data could lead to profound change in the way we talk about,  purchase and use heat, by providing energy as a packaged service that consumers can understand, rather than simply selling units of fuel.

To tackle climate change in the UK, we need to effectively eliminate the 20% of CO2 emissions that come from domestic heating. Some reductions have already been made, but progress is slower than required. However, the reports released today suggest utilising data may allow energy providers to understand customers needs and design better low carbon heating solutions.

Matthew Lipson, head of consumer insight at the Energy Systems Catapult, author of “How can people get the heat they want at home, without carbon?”, said: “There is an opportunity emerging to leverage the connected home to decarbonise heat in a way that consumers like and they are willing to pay for, allowing government to harness market forces to decarbonise at the least cost.

“Here at the Energy Systems Catapult, we’re taking it to the next step by upgrading 100 homes with smart home technology, giving trialists access to the level of data and control that will be widespread in the 2020s. We’re opening this up as an area for innovators to work with government to learn how to design great products and services that delight consumers.”

Headline observations

  • The first insight report “How can people get the heat they want at home, without the carbon?” reveals that consumers care more about their experience of using heat, than how it is delivered. From enjoying a hot shower to using heat to relieve pain, consumers were initially unaware of the value that heat is adding to their lives. The research demonstrated that smart technology could help consumers understand their heating options, turning passive bill-payers into discerning customers.
  • The second insight report, “Domestic Energy Services”, explores the potential of the “connected home” of the 2020’s and examines how data could be used by service providers to deliver a proposition that consumers really value. It also looks at how this could be used to accelerate the switch from gas central heating to low carbon alternatives.
  • Both reports highlight the opportunity for policy and regulatory bodies to help drive the decarbonisation of heat to meet UK climate targets through their support for commercial innovators.

What’s next?

This winter, the ESC has established a “living lab” of 100 homes as part of Phase 2 of the Smart Systems and Heat programme, using the Home Energy Services Gateway (HESG) system which can connect homes with products and services from multiple providers.  For the first time, Energy Service Providers (ESPs) and device vendors can develop and test products from a range of providers, accelerating innovation.  An initial set of off-the-shelf connected home devices have been utilised for the 2017-18 trial, with findings to be published later in 2018.

Published: 12 February 2018