Using the Living Lab to sell consumer centric heat services that encourage adoption of low carbon heating

Published: 26 February 2020

Introduction

During the winter of 2018/19, Energy Systems Catapult carried out a field trial in its ‘Living Lab’, of 100 households fitted with advanced heating controls that enable households to control the temperature in each of their rooms at different times using a mobile, tablet or laptop.

The households were subsequently offered the chance to buy heat as a service with ‘Heat Plans’ that sold them ‘Warm Hours’ instead of kilowatt hours. A Warm Hour is any hour where a participant had requested any room to be heating above 10 degrees.

Working with two industrial partners, two variants of heat as a service were launched:

  • Heat Plan that only included heat and hot water – paying a fixed amount for either single Warm Hours (pay-as-you-go) or for a set number of Warm Hours each week (pay weekly);
  • Heat Plan including a Heating system – with a fixed weekly price for a fixed number of Warm Hours, a heating system, services and maintenance.

The Catapult also offered Heat Plans to get feedback on the design of new features. These included plans with temperature limits, different names (e.g. ‘Toasty Cruiser Heat Plan’) and roll over warm hours.

This report was published alongside two related reports, ‘Decarbonising Heat: Understanding how to increase the appeal and performance of heat pumps’ and ‘Insight Paper: Lessons from running the Living Lab’.

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

Key points

  • Participants’ changed how they used their heating in response to changes in their circumstances or heating requirements. For instance, comfort-focused participants used fewer hours of heating this winter because the weather was milder than last winter.
  • Giving participants better control of their heating and information about how they (and others) used it helped them discover what heating experiences they really enjoyed. Manufacturers could use these consumer preferences to design better low carbon heating.
  • Participants remained positive towards the concept of buying their heat-as-a-Service. They preferred the idea of including a new heating system in the service because it meant they had the simplicity of one package that gave them everything they needed to keep their home warm home for a fixed cost.
  • Participants liked the idea of service providers using their data to recommend what heating system they should replace theirs with should they need a new one and were open to replacing their gas boiler with low carbon alternatives as part of a heat service. However, they had little understanding of what heating systems were low carbon or how to buy them.
  • Participants said that heat services reduced their concerns about installing unfamiliar, low carbon heating systems because they knew they would be able to get the same level of comfort as they could with a gas boiler for a predictable price. In this way, Heat Plans may increase take up of low carbon heating systems by increasing consumers’ confidence that they will be able to get what they want from an unfamiliar technology.