Insight Paper: Lessons from running the Living Lab

Published: 26 February 2020

Innovation is critical to meeting net zero emissions targets by 2050. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the Committee on Climate Change and the UK Energy Research Centre have all cited the importance of increasing government support for innovation – through R&D, demonstration and policies to create new markets.

As part of the Smart Systems and Heat Phase 2 programme, the Catapult converted a sample of smart homes around the UK into a Living Lab. The aim was to discover if it could help industry to explore how the integration of new business models with advanced controls and low carbon heating technology might accelerate domestic decarbonisation.

This report describes the lessons learned from developing and using a Living Lab of real homes and consumers and how this might be developed and used in the future to support innovation in decarbonising domestic energy for government and industry.

This report was published alongside two related reports, ‘Using the Living Lab to sell consumer centric heat services that encourage adoption of low carbon heating’ and ‘Decarbonising Heat: Understanding how to increase the appeal and performance of heat pumps’.

All three projects were funded by the Department of Business Energy and Industrial Strategy.

Key points

  • Treat the trial environment as a technical enabler. The barriers to transitioning to low carbon heating and energy at home are about more than just technology. Trials should look at the desirability and commercial viability of low carbon products and services, not just whether they are technically feasible.
  • Give consumers a great reason to want to participate in your trial. Trials are competing with a wealth of other things people want to do with their time. In addition, we have found consumers were reluctant to live with monitoring equipment in previous studies. It was easier to persuade people to take part when we gave them something they valued in exchange. Therefore we offered people free smart heating controls for joining the Living Lab.
  • Help consumers give useful feedback. Smart heating controls also revealed what temperatures consumers wanted without having to ask them something they don’t know. It’s also worth making sure people can easily use what you are trialling to do what they want, or you will only learn consumers don’t like unusable prototypes.
  • Invest in high quality customer services. It takes time and costs money to recruit people to take part in trials, especially if you have to visit them to check the technology will work safely. It’s worth investing in high quality customer services to hold onto participants once you’ve found them. Even if you can replace participants you won’t have comparable historic data for the new ones you find. Also, participants will be more forgiving of problems with prototypes if you fix problems well.
  • Set aside enough time. Don’t expect to have all the right answers at the start and be prepared to invest time with consumers and the supply chain at the start of a trial. Consumers need time to adapt to new products and services and fit them into their lives. The supply chain also needs time to learn, for instance, installers may need training and practice before they can install new low carbon heating products well in participants homes.