With heating currently accounting for 30% of the UK’s emissions, the need for decarbonisation in the sector is becoming increasingly pressing.
Companies are looking for smart solutions to electrify heat in a way that could not only help reduce emissions but also balance the electricity grid.
One project looking into the possibility of using internet-connected storage heaters to reduce bills and emission was launched in March by Kaluza, Dimplex and EDF. Together they are installing Dimplex’s pumps in homes, which will then be controlled using Kaluza’s – the intelligent energy platform from supplier OVO – software.
“The trial kicked off towards the start of winter. EDF recruited over 30 customers who have got over 100 storage heaters installed with them through the project and we've been optimising their control since then,” Conor Maher-McWilliams, Kaluza's head of flexibility, explained to Current± recently.
“I think the project has been going really well. I think once we got it off the ground, it was quite quick to recruit customers,” he adds.
Within the trial there are two key points they are looking to prove, Maher-McWilliams continues: that you can reduce the cost of supplying electricity through optimising when devices charge, and the potential of storage heat solutions to provide a DSO type turn down service.
“So we're not actually participating in a market but we're demonstrating the technical capability and that's based on the work that we have done with Sonnen batteries in Lincolnshire, where we've been providing a local flexibility service to Western power distribution through their flexible power markets,” he continues. “So we've kind of taken our learnings and experience from how that market works and replicated it with storage heat, as part of the EDF pilot.”
The need for flexibility as well as decarbonised heat is particularly evident currently, given the low demand experienced during the COVID-19 lockdown.
The shift involves challenges, however, particularly around the perception of electrified heat, as Jean-Benoit Ritz – director of innovation and Blue Lab at EDF in the UK – commented when the project was announced.
“Switching heating in homes from carbon-intensive fossil fuels to lower carbon electricity is one of the most important things Britain will need to do to cut its emissions. At the same time, households with storage heaters can struggle to access efficient, cost-effective heat.
“We have to get smarter and make the most of the digital, data-driven solutions out there that can power homes with low carbon energy when it is needed. This trial is just one way that EDF is investing to accelerate the transition to low-carbon heating and we are delighted to be working with Kaluza to deliver customer-focused innovation that will help us reach net zero.”
While Maher-McWilliams seemingly views the customer approach to electric heating more optimistically when talking to Current±, he says he is eager to see the results of a full customer insights piece following the trial.
“I think if you take the climate change concerns and heat perception out of it for a second, the perception of the electric heating service and the customer experience has improved from what it was like before. The fact that [participants in the trial] are offering us their flexibility to charge when electricity is cheapest and greenest without impacting the overall heating service is important. So I think that the awareness of how it all links back into the push to net zero has grown. We'll be interested to see the results of in the insight piece.”
Kaluza has been working in the sector for a number of years now however, both with OVO and within other projects.
“It goes back as far as 2017, when we signed our sort of flagship partnership into storage heat with Glen Dimplex. So we've been offering that through OVO to customers for a while, and that also that partnership also forms the basis of the EDF partnership,” Maher-McWilliams says.
But there is yet to be an outright winner in the electric heating space, although “we're learning a lot about the different technologies available,” he continues.
“They have different characteristics, and behave in slightly different ways. Storage heaters are a great flexible asset, because they have quite a high storage capacity. But then heat pumps with things like with the Sunamp batteries are also showing a lot of promise. It is quite early in the Smart Island Energy Systems (SMILE) project, so we're still building up that sort of data set to assess that question a bit more quantitatively.”
Kaluza is also one of the companies involved in Project TraDER, a ‘world first’ flexibility trial on the Orkney Islands.
It has been involved in a number of different trials looking at how EV’s can provide flexibility to the grid as well, along with signing a partnership with Powervault battery storage last year.
Maher-McWilliams explains: “Our job at Kaluza is to optimise the inherent flexibility of when devices charge and discharge depending on the capability of the device, in order to create some money in the flexibility market that the supplier can then package up and pass back to their customer in whatever ways it will be most meaningful to their customers. So that might be either a discount on the smart hardware itself, or it could be an ongoing incentive.”