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Energy Companies Trial New Smart Meter

Two UK energy companies have just completed their government-funded long-term trials of a more efficient and user-friendly type of smart meter. 

Bristol Energy and Baxi Heating have both developed a new meter, with the help of the Department of Business Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), where heat is measured as “hours of warmth” instead of kWh. This makes it easier for people to measure how much energy they plan on using, while also pushing demand for more efficient energy, since better heating is no longer correlated with simply what uses the most carbon.

The two energy suppliers worked with Energy Systems Catapult (ESC) to install these new smart heating meters in 100 homes across Newcastle, the West Midlands, Manchester and Gloucestershire in England, and Bridgend in Wales.

This trial was implemented to see what consumers’ habits would change if they could view heat as the measurement, as they expected customers to choose price and heat over energy consumption.

How does it work?

These new meters allowed the home owners to schedule their heat for the hours that they were in the house, as well as learn more about how efficient their home is for holding heat. A customer can learn which hours they usually need heat, and how much energy it takes to get their home to a comfortable temperature, then pay a flat rate.

ESC explained that the user-accessibility positives of these smart energy meters could lead to rising popularity in low-carbon heating for homes across the country.

Dr Matt Lipson, their consumer insight business lead, said: “Consumers have concerns about their ability to get warm and comfortable at an affordable price and how to fix the system if it breaks down. Yet our research clearly shows that people care more about heating outcomes – such as getting warm and comfortable – than which device or system delivers the heat.

“If people have the peace of mind that heat-as-a-service will deliver the comfort they want at a price they can afford…then when it comes time to replace their gas boiler, they will be more confident of switching to a low carbon heating system like a heat pump, district heat network or hydrogen boiler.”

ESC also tested the possibility of a hybrid system that uses a traditional gas boiler, as well as an electric pump. The heat pumps generated between 6-63% of the heating across the five homes that took part, which could be adjusted. The report that was made after the trial classified this as a success, with 85% of users saying that they’d be open to low-carbon heating in the future, if cost and comfort both remained. ESC urged manufacturers to give the public more control over their heating.

“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,” the report said.

“The Heat Plans that people purchased revealed insights into what influenced their willingness to pay for different types of service. This information can provide insight into how much people would be prepared to pay for low-carbon heating that provides a better experience than they currently enjoy.”

How are they being rolled out?

The two companies do differ slightly on how they want to introduce these systems. 

Baxi Energy UK have developed a contract where the new heating system is fitted as part of a maintenance bundle alongside the energy itself, similar to a smartphone contract where you pay for the phone, calls, texts and data.

Bristol Energy looked into the possibility of giving the user two options, one being a flat-rate based on the energy efficiency of your home and how often you need heat, the other being a pay-as-you-go meter, similar to smart meters now.

Why this is important

The UK has a target of creating zero net emissions by 2050, this could prove crucial to reach that goal. Every household in the UK will have to use a low-carbon alternative to their current heat source eventually if we’re going to be net-zero, and this could very well be the medium that homes and businesses everywhere may start using. Currently, three quarters of the UK’s heat is generated by fossil gas.

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