Plenty of “small fry” aka exciting startups and SMEs made up the programme for the first HEAT conference focusing on intelligent heating systems in Cambridge in November 2012. Companies expert in accumulator tanks, heat metering, control systems and intelligent automation joined to provide the basis for liberating the householder from the worry of reducing their heating bill & carbon as best they can.
The problem of reducing the heating bill & carbon as best one can is initially supported across the board by the ingenuity of ARM’s engineers who design chips that minimise the energy used by sensors and control systems and do so with maximal utility and intelligence.
ARM sponsored the conferences iHEAT and iWATER in November 2012 and spoke of the idea of partnership driving innovation in energy efficiency. Keith Clarke of ARM mentioned OECD forecasts of a very different world in the medium term of 20 years’ horizon, where the middle class, living much as most do in the UK and “West” live now, will increase globally by 3 billion people! The same source suggests an increase in energy usage of 60% to 2030, something which BPAE’s Katrina Landis has highlighted at CIR Events before. ARM also noted that 18 countries are estimated to see a water shortage in the next 13 years to 2025.
With this backdrop, there are huge opportunities and indeed imperatives for efficiency and innovative solutions in data and services for the sectors of consumer products & systems, infrastructure, transport, power generation and industry and transmission.
For ARM, intelligence is emerging everywhere – in cars, homes, smart devices – even street lighting. ARM calls this the Architecture of the Digital World.
There is a “connectivity gap” which ARM hopes to help solve, where one has long communications distances, short battery life and very high cost – moving this to shorter distances, long life and low cost.
ARM also believes in and supports an internet of things architecture (see the iotaforum.com site) rather than an internet of silos (the higher “entropy” result of organic growth).
Galu Accumulator Tanks spoke after ARM plc as an up and coming startup manufacturing products that will be a key pivot in the move towards optimal cost, carbon and convenience home heating and energy systems.
The important departure from the typical British home is that the hot water storage tank is no longer a small copper tin with something akin to zip-up pyjamas as insulation, and which goes cold overnight. It is now a larger, highly-insulated store, which loses only a degree centigrade overnight and thereby opens up the possibility of storing the resultant energy until needed.
We can also combine energy sources such as biomass boilers, solar thermal panels, heat pumps, with mains gas. Once there are choices of inputs, we have another fundamental shift; now, one can choose which source to use as input energy source and at what time. And with a stratified tank, one can choose which section of the accumulator tank to withdraw energy from. An analogy was given of “pennies and pounds” that one may need to take from the tank depending on the temperature required.
This is actually quite revolutionary (although ancient and indigenous peoples have for millenia used such optimisation techniques).
Furthermore, we have the problem of convenience and human effort. Most people do not have the time or interest to manually run their heating systems. They do so because they have had to. By introducing sensors inside and out, we can gather a lot of ambient information. Then through control systems and intelligent learning, one can reduce to negligible levels, the human effort to run the system optimally. Running it optimally is crucial. Theoretically, one can obtain the best possible efficiency without human input other than the information obtained about the human occupants in the general running of their households. Specifically, human interaction with the system can be reduced to adjustment of temperature of rooms to comfort – the simplest possible choice, leave alone, warmer or cooler. This minimal interaction is sufficient for an intelligent system to learn how to run the heating system according to the occupants normal patterns of behaviour and needs and wants.
Heat pumps, solar thermal, and mains gas require little maintenance by the holseholders as they are “on tap”. The case of biomass (logs or pellets) clearly has a feeding system that is limited by the store of biomass that can be held or stored, but this process can be almost seasonal only for larger systems.
The system can be set to optimise for cost and then carbon, which might be the “default”, or vice versa, or indeed only for one or other factor.
The remainder of the conference was devoted to systems that can achieve this ideal heating system based on efficient thermal storage and multiple input sources.
One such provider had an in-home M2M (machine-to-machine) technology that is scaleable and such that one can avoid the internet of silos. It is an enabling technology.
Another company, New Era Controls, had a system for industrial and commercial property energy management.
A third company, Your Smart Home, through technical director, Will Hopkins, gave the stark contrast between the modern car and the modern home. The car has a range of intelligent features, such as automatic lights, zoned heating controls, heated seats, dimming, satnav, adaptive occupancy settings and so on. The house by contrast has a wiring system based on 1950s technology, no zoning, energy management, sensing, integration and so on. It seemed a huge and glaring opportunity!
Some insight into why this smart home automation for heating hasn’t already happened came from the final session opening talk based on research by the government’s cabinet office.
One-off, conscious, deliberative “decision making” such as buying an energy efficient home or improving the energy efficiency of ones home was contrasted with habitual purchasing decisions, or everyday behaviours which are automatic, non-conscious habits like reducing everyday energy consumption in the home.
The smart heating trial showed that “making it easy” was crucial. Incidentally, this agrees entirely with CIR Strategy’s work on routes to market whereby one designs the service around removing the key barriers to purchase and use of the product or service. In this case, the cabinet office speaker gave the example fo the loft clearance service, which made take up of loft insulation much more rapid than simply reducing cost through group discounts, which made little difference to take up.
DECC’s speaker noted that “daily heat storage can help to improve the performance and consumer acceptability of heat pumps, which are less able to meet spikes in heat demand than the incumbent gas boiler technology.”
DECC added that: “heat storage can help make heat networks more economical by allowing heat sources to operate more efficiently, reducing the amount of heat generated on capacity to meet peak demand.”
This shows the high importance of thermal storage and accumulation of heat, and that this is supported strongly by government is clear in its strategy of March 2012, as well as in numerous prior documents.
AlertMe’s Founder Pilgrim Beart stated that “1⁄4 of all UK energy goes on Home Heating & Hot water.” Pilgrim noted that we have warmer houses – up to an average of 18C from 12C in 1970, not as a result of climate change or of turning up the thermostat, but from heating more rooms within the house and for longer. Yes, consumption of energy has risen, though more modestly than the temperature, as a result of efficiencies.
According to BERR, though, 10 million of our 26 million homes do not have a thermostat! And almost no-one has visibility on the cost changes as well as the temperature changes we make. Beart stated also that temperature was not the same as comfort: one can feel warm when it is cooler, and cold when it is hotter!
Of those homes that have thermostats, many of them are old-style, that act like simple “switches” – turn up and on when cold. Some are “modern” thermostats which are programmable like old VCRs, and which defeat 47% of the people who have them, according to research by YouGov.
And some have “cloud thermostats” on their smart phones which give home heating control anywhere, anytime.
AlertMe noted that stakeholder views are quite different, with industry looking for unique, value-added services & upsell, smart meters & TOU billing systems, while consumers look for lower cost, peace of mind, control, simplicity, comfort and convenience.
“In an extendible, intelligent heating system”, said Beart, “the most common action is of course to ignore the system and leave it alone. Such a system, as described in the conference piece by piece, will improve efficiency, be simpler to use and yield better comfort.”
Finally, Fiona Saunders, Head of Investment at British Gas, gave a talk covering smart metering, remote heating control and the Customer-Led Network Revolution (CLNR). Fiona highlighted positive reactions from more than half of those customers surveyed who have smart meters. British Gas have installed 400k smart meters to end 2011. BG see intelligent heating systems as a longer term, strategic area of interest, enabling customers to reduce bills, live more comfortably, while building their own business around better cheaper technologies.
Remote heating controls were discussed, which the user controls from a smart device or a laptop. Such a control “resonated” with customers, a great majority of which said that saving money, increasing control and comfort were important to them.
Finally, BG said that there had been propositions taken up by customers on time-of-use pricing (3 levels); heat pumps with larger thermal stores; and routing excess PV to hot water rather than into the smart grid.
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