Development of renewable energy and increased electricity demand means that there is a growing need for technology to help manage and consume it in the most efficient way possible. Here, Jamie Bennett, Engineering Director at Drayton, discusses how the industry is shifting towards the concept of ‘Home Energy Management’ and why installers need to be aware of it.
As we continue to look for new carbon-neutral ways to heat the 23 million homes in the UK that currently rely on gas boilers, it is expected that electric heating methods will become more widely adopted. As demand for electricity increases, and is expected to rise dramatically moving forward, the industry is now building on smart heating and embracing the concept of ‘Home Energy Management’.
According to a Delta-EE report, Home Energy Management in the UK is expected to grow by 31% every year over the next five years, but what exactly is it?
The concept of home energy management is part of the broader smart home space and the ever expanding Internet of Things. Home Energy Management Systems (HEMS) enable households to better manage energy consumption by providing information about energy usage and/or allowing more precise control of the so-called ‘Energy Guzzlers’ in the home like EV chargers and heating devices.
With advances in smart home technology and machine-to-machine communication, HEMS will not only change how homeowners consume energy, but how they actively look to reduce energy usage.
HEMS are comprised of two main components, hardware and software. The system’s hardware generally consists of a ‘hub’ device that acts as a link between the homeowner and the devices and appliances connected in the home.
The software used in HEMS will usually take the form of a smart phone app or web portal that grants homeowners the ability to monitor and control energy consumption of all connected devices to enhance energy efficiency.
Different HEMS will allow different monitoring capabilities, but generally homeowners will not only receive feedback on how their energy is being used or generated (by renewable energy sources), but also information on past and present use to view trends. By using a homeowner’s preferences, the system will automatically optimise the home for maximum savings whilst maintaining comfort and convenience.
There are three key energy sources HEMS can be integrated with to give homeowners full sight of the energy being consumed and generated by the household.
It goes without saying that a core function of HEMS involves monitoring the use of electricity within the home. This will play a hugely important role as electric alternatives, such as heat pumps, become a front-runner in the journey towards finding carbon-free ways to heat our homes.
HEMS will give homeowners the ability to quickly and simply monitor what electrical devices are operating and remotely turn them on/off or otherwise modify their operation (i.e. turning down the temperature of the heating system).
In addition, HEMS with energy storage capabilities can also prove to be very effective in a power outage situation, ensuring that energy is used effectively and that the applications that matter the most have power when required.
Solar panels are being installed in the UK faster than any other country, allowing homeowners to generate a portion of their electricity on-site. HEMS can ensure this energy is used effectively as possible, giving homeowners the option to programme their system to run certain applications when the sun is shining or to export unused energy to the grid for financial benefits.
Solar thermal – or solar hot water – is also becoming a popular technology in the UK, which uses sunlight to heat water within a home. Generally, solar hot water systems operate independently of a home’s other electrical devices, but an innovative HEMS can help improve their value even further by supplementing solar energy with electrical heating when tariffs are low and outside conditions are not optimal.
For years, many people saw energy storage as a novelty or associated it with people living off-grid. However, advancements in technology and the growth of renewable energy mean this is an area that offers homeowners a lot of potential.
Energy storage works well with the idea of the ‘smart home’ and is key to greater home energy self-sufficiency and lower electricity bills. If homeowners utilise a renewable energy system, such as solar PV, then they will inevitably generate more electricity than needed at times of high supply and low demand. In order to maximise the value of battery storage, HEMS can take into account multiple variables – such as whether homeowners are on a time of use flat rate tariff and whether they have any incentive to sell stored energy to the grid.
Some of the more innovative energy suppliers are offering variable tariffs that change the price of electricity depending on the demand and in some cases, suppliers pay homeowners to use electricity at certain times of the day due to a surplus in the grid.
Smart grid technology is being developed in order to meet the rising electricity requirement and HEMS will potentially play a significant role in understanding the energy demand of household applications. For example, energy suppliers may offer incentives and better tariffs to their customers in exchange for allowing the energy supplier to optimise their home heating. This would give suppliers the ability to better manage the demand placed on the grid whist catering for the homeowners needs.
Additionally, HEMS will be able to learn exactly how to optimise energy storage and usage based on homeowner behaviours, further helping the energy demand placed on the grid. For example, the HEMS will register that the solar panels installed collect the most energy between 10am and 4pm, with a peak in energy usage at 6pm when the whole family is home. It will then shift from using the grid to using storage during the evening when electricity is more expensive and demand is high.
When the electric car is plugged in around the same time it will know that it can delay charging until later in order to be ready for the commute by 8am the next day.
Whilst this type of fully automated home might be some way off, the UK government and utility providers are already adopting HEMS, and it’s clear these innovative systems have a big role to play in the future of the energy infrastructure.
With this in mind, it’s important that heating engineers are educating themselves as early as possible on the home energy management solutions available to be in a position to up-skill and adopt them as part of their offering as traditional gas boiler installations are phased out from 2025