Giving power to the consumer on the road to net-zero
The way in which we engage with energy consumption within our homes has remained stuck in the dark ages whereas smart technology increasingly dominates most other aspects of our lives.
For example, there is a huge divide between the car we have on the driveway and the property we live in. With the ability to tell us what our fuel consumption is; how many miles are left; when a service is needed; when tyres are at the wrong pressure; and to dynamically suggest route changes when an incident arises, our cars are underpinned by technology that makes it as simple as possible for us as consumers to run them as efficiently as possible.
The way we use energy in our homes will play a critical part in society's path to net-zero, but by comparison, we are not as engaged and our homes provide little insight when it comes to energy usage. Whilst smart meters and In-Home-Displays (IHDs) are increasingly – and necessarily – present in homes, the data they provide is but the starting point for change. It remains today far too complex for the average consumer to truly take control of the carbon footprint of their own home.
Our homes' energy management needs to move into the modern day. Just as technology and real-time, rich data has become mainstream in so many other aspects of our lives, we now need to apply it within our homes to make change seamless, easy and personal – if we are ever to reach net-zero.
Awareness but no control
Consumer awareness of net-zero and the environment is on the rise as various target dates for emission reductions loom large. With a huge drive to hit net-zero by 2050; ceasing the sale of new diesel and petrol cars by 2030; pressure is mounting for us all to play our part in reducing our carbon footprint. Increased awareness of climate change is leading to more sustainable life choices for many as reducing our personal environmental impact remains a key issue at the forefront of people's minds. The pandemic has also led consumers to be more aware of the environmental impact of their actions, as well as making homeowners more conscious of outgoings – including rising bills.
Despite this, consumers today have very little control in the move to net-zero. Thus far, the spotlight has been on large organisations and the Government whilst most of the general public have to observe from afar a conversation that has not involved or engaged with them. Consumers have been left with little ability, or knowledge, to contribute to the reduction of their own carbon footprint when it comes to one of the largest uses of energy: their homes. Whether consumers are motivated by sustainability, by saving money, or a combination of both, there is a lot to be gained from a reduction in energy consumption, or at the very least a refocus on how and when we are using our energy. In order to make a real impact in the journey to net-zero, consumers need to be given the information they need to take action to make a real difference.
Increasing access to home energy data
Smart meters and IHDs are the starting point, giving consumers the access they need to their own, personal real-time data on energy usage. The proliferation of dynamic, 'time of use' tarrifs will encourage consumers to use their knowledge of their energy data to adjust usage and therefore costs in real-time, so they can choose, for example, to switch on power hungry appliances at a time of day or night when prices are at their lowest and less carbon intense. But, is this enough? Getting out of bed at 2am when energy is cheaper to turn on an appliance is not a realistic or attractive option for many of us. Even with an app or the ability to pre-set, it still requires a lot of management and time.
Currently, home energy data is too broad, providing little specific detail on an individual home and, more fundamentally, the behaviour of those within it, giving little insight for the consumer to make a decision on usage. A solution that takes the data from the IHD and gives it meaning – insights that are simple and personalised – is the next step in the quest to solve the problem for consumers. It must be accessible and affordable for all regardless of income, property size or type. And, critically, it needs to make decision-making effortless, automated and future-proof.
Balancing supply and demand
Within the next few years, more major changes will be upon us – Electric Vehicles (EVs) will become the norm and it is predicted that there will be approximately 15 million battery EVs on the road in the UK by 2035. Additionally, with the Government's ambition to deliver 19 million heat pumps by 2050 and a ban on the installation of gas boilers in new build properties from 2025, the way our lives, and homes, run is going to fundamentally change.
In parallel, the current volatility in the supply side of power, especially increasing gas prices and the susceptibility to disruption of international power links, has highlighted the need for a far more flexible and sustainable approach to our energy supply.
As power increasingly comes from renewables we will need to be able to integrate local supply into the energy mix. EVs, heat pumps, and other renewable sources will transform consumers from power users to potential power generators and suppliers, able to use these resources to both store energy and produce energy for the home, or indeed, sell it back to the grid. The demand-side and supply-side of power will change for good: any technology and data-led solution will have to be smart and flexible enough to keep up.
What's next for consumers?
In the near future, we will be able to present a blend of real-time and historic data as insights, to be used by homeowners to make changes. We will be empowered to make more informed decisions on how to manage our energy. And, looking ahead, the use of apps can modernise this further still by connecting with other smart home technology to provide us with an understanding of which appliances are costing the most and how to balance this. For example, smart/connected appliances can be automatically switched on, EVs charged when prices are low – or even feed back to the home or grid when demand is high.
Through the combined use of an app, data from IHDs and a consumer's personal home energy usage, the way we manage our energy in our homes will be transformed. In much the same way as our cars give us the control and choice to help us run them as efficiently as possible, requiring minimal consumer input, it is only a matter of time before we have the capability to power our homes with the lowest environmental impact and lowest energy cost, whilst also helping to balance demand- and supply-side.
A revolution in home energy is coming, driven by the need to reach net-zero and the need to give control to the consumer so that we can make informed choices. The future of home energy is going to be dynamic, automated and intuitive. Whilst consumers begin to invest in EVs and switch to dynamic tariffs, the use of technology and apps – and critically, the data behind those, for energy management will be key. It is vital we revolutionise our homes and put the power in the hands of the consumers.
This article originally appeared in AT Journal 141