Product design and development firm Cambridge Consultants has been appointed by the Energy Technologies Institute (ETI) to lead a £4.9 million home energy management system (HEMS) project. The aim of the two-year UK project is to accelerate the deployment of an advanced customer-orientated HEMS with mass-market appeal.
Current HEMS, incorporating smart meters, can be installed in homes to monitor energy usage – with recommendations on how to reduce energy wastage and therefore cost to the consumer. But the ambitious new project aims to create an energy management system for a building that is not simply an automation of existing controls. The goal is to create a HEMS service that informs and engages consumers to transform the way they heat their homes.
“Most of us have only a vague idea of what the kilowatt hours we buy from our energy supplier actually mean – and how they translate into our experience of being warm and comfortable at home,” said Tim Ensor, head of connected devices at Cambridge Consultants. “It’s a bit like going to a restaurant and choosing from a menu of vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, fat and protein – and hoping to get your favourite meal.
“Enabling people to move towards low-carbon heating sources means we have to be much smarter about how we deliver and store heat in our homes, and about how we communicate with consumers about their heating options. Doing this requires a technically very complex system of connected devices to engage consumers with their home heating in an easy-to-understand way.
“Our track record of delivering breakthrough innovation – combined with the ETI’s insight into the UK energy market – makes for an exciting partnership that has the potential to transform the way we manage our home heating.”
Decarbonising home heating has a crucial role to play in the UK meeting its legally binding 2050 climate change targets – as around 20% of the nation’s carbon emissions are generated by domestic heating. Around 90% of the 26 million homes in the UK today are expected to be still in use in 2050 – but fewer than 4% of homes have low-carbon heating and, given the choice, 90% of households prefer gas central heating.
“Our research shows that few people care enough to change how they heat their homes simply because of emissions,” said Donna Gandy-Wright, project manager at the Energy Systems Catapault, which is delivering the HEMS project for the ETI. “Consumers want to optimise their heating systems before replacing them, households have different priorities and people want better control of the time, effort and money they spend on their home – they don’t simply want to minimise their running costs.
“The HEMS project is designed to provide consumers with a range of solutions for better control of how they use energy in their homes, as well as providing the industry with compelling propositions and business models for the future.
“We chose Cambridge Consultants to lead this project as it has all the necessary skills under one roof – from user experience and web designers to radio engineers and mathematicians. It also brings a valuable fresh perspective to the issue, which we hope will help the energy industry reinvent its relationship with its customers.”
The system that is developed will be installed and tested in homes during the winter of 2016-17. The results will be analysed to give an insight into consumer behavior patterns, electricity and gas use, and building and heating system performance. This data will then be used to develop further products and integrate more appliances in the home.
“This project is a great example of novel service design,” said Ensor. “It involves creating a different conversation between consumers and energy suppliers to offer ‘comfort as a service’ – with an innovative system of connected devices throughout the home.”