SMEs and households to benefit from energy efficiency clean technology trials

The UK Government has backed a new digital energy efficiency platform for SMEs to receive automated advice to save energy, in the same week that a smart homes project that uses AI technology on hot water systems to generate storage capacity and manage grid demand commenced.

SMEs and households to benefit from energy efficiency clean technology trials

The USER projects aims to use hot water cylinders to balance grid demand

A new project is aiming to unlock the energy storage potential of hot water cylinders used in millions of UK homes for heating water to help balance energy grids.

The USER Project won funding from the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) as part of the Domestic Demand Side Response (DSR) competition last year. The project is now rolling out smart hubs to 50 homes this month, with an aim to add an additional 300 homes by the end of the year.

The hubs use Artificial Intelligence to autonomously learn how much energy each home requires and enables entire communities to coordinate in real time to interact with the grid so that homes can turn on heating while accounting for energy prices and the level of supply and demand on the grid.

The USER project is led by a group of organisations operating within the low carbon energy sector, including Baxi Heating, Ecuity Consulting, Heatrae Sadia, Energy Systems Catapult, Durham University and Levelise, the tech start-up behind the Smart Hub. 

By repurposing nine million water cylinders, the project developers believe that almost 100GWh of combined storage capacity can be unlocked, equivalent to around six million Tesla Powerwall units.

Dr Iván Castro, one of the Founders of Levelise said: “Unlocking the demand side potential of hot water heating is a game-changer for balancing the energy system, allowing for more renewables and helping millions of homes to use energy more intelligently. Using AI, we are enabling hot water cylinders to autonomously learn how much each household uses at what time, and to decide which is the best action to take in order to produce lower bills whilst ensuring energy isn’t wasted.”

With the UK’s energy system becoming increasingly “democratised” and businesses and individuals generating and selling, as well as buying, energy, calls are emerging for regulator Ofgem to bring about a flexible energy future.

Specifically, the REA notes that more than 60% of exported power in Britain now comes from generation methods with varying outputs, such as wind and solar. The organisation additionally states that more than three million UK households are now customers of energy companies which offer exclusively “100% renewable” electricity packages, with such offerings also gaining popularity in the business space – particularly heavy industry, manufacturing and retail.

As such, the REA has called on regulator Ofgem and the central Government to bolster support for flexible energy technologies such as battery storage, electric vehicle (EV) infrastructure and onsite solar.

Specifically, it criticises Ofgem’s ‘Targeted Charging Review’ reforms. Launched in 2017, the reforms aim to assess how residual network charges should be set and recovered – but the report claims they are “damaging” and will “undermine the deployment of flexible energy technologies”.

Energy DEEP dive

In related news, small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) in the UK look set to benefit from a new automated digital platform that has been backed by Government grants to improve business energy efficiency.

Scotland-based arbnco has received £641,000 from BEIS through its Energy Innovation Programme to pilot a digital energy efficiency platform (DEEP) across the UK.

DEEP enables SMEs to optimise total energy consumption and performance data for their premises to generate a bespoke list of technological and behavioural improvements to improve energy efficiency.

arbnco will deploy a prototype of the platform in pilots in the central belt of Scotland, the West Midlands and Bridgend, Wales, with assistance from Centrica, Energy Systems Catapult, Aston Business School, Durham County Council and sustainable finance company, Cyan Finance.

Arbnco’s research and development manager Andrew Stewart said: “The first phase of the project focussed on the technical feasibility of the platform as well as, understanding of the obstacles that SMEs face when it comes to energy efficiency.

“By providing SMEs with critical insight into their energy use and tailored retrofit recommendations, based on an assessment of the energy performance of their building and patterns in their energy consumption, we can help thousands of businesses become more energy efficient.”

Almost two-thirds of UK SMEs have signalled their intentions to improve environmental sustainability practices due to heightened consumer awareness and new legislation, according to the Lloyds Bank Commercial Banking’s Business Barometer.

The Barometer surveyed 1,200 companies in November 2019, exploring attitudes towards environmental sustainability. While 64% claimed they wanted to become more sustainable, 63% have already taken steps to improve environmental performances in the past 12 months.

According to the survey, which first launched in 2002, 24% of SME respondents have improved the energy efficiency of their premises in the last year, while 22% have utilised suppliers that offer greener products and services.

Matt Mace

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie