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Phil Hurley, UK MD of NIBE Energy Systems, looks at how heat pump systems, solar PV panels and smart home technology can support a flexible energy system.
It goes without saying that the transition to a net zero economy is complex. As we shift our reliance on fossil fuels and depend more and more on intermittent renewables, we face the mammoth task of creating an energy system that is both flexible and able to cope with an increase in demand.
At the same time, the net zero transition means that we must make significant changes to the way we heat our homes, which currently account for almost 15% of total UK carbon emissions.
Crucially, as we shift towards low carbon heating systems like heat pumps, which rely on electricity, we have an opportunity to enable people to participate in the future energy system from the comfort of their homes. This will allow people to minimise their energy consumption and maximise comfort, whilst allowing the National Grid to cope with the inevitable increase in electricity demand brought on by the electrification of heating and transport.
The combination of heat pumps and solar PV can deliver significant benefits to homes and the wider energy system. Generating enough electricity to cover the consumption of a heat pump, particularly during the summer months, homes can reduce their reliance on the National Grid by combining these two technologies. This not only improves the carbon footprint of the home, due to the UK’s energy mix not yet being fully decarbonised, but also means that the household can reduce its running costs and export surplus energy back the grid for a revenue through the Smart Export Guarantee. The generation of electricity through solar PV also means that households no longer need to worry about rising electricity prices, which are currently a cause for concern due to disproportionate tax levies. Long term, electricity and gas prices will need to be balanced to level the playing field between heating technologies and support the rollout of heat pumps in line with government targets.
Smart price adaption technology also has a role to play in reducing running costs for the household by enabling the heat pump to work hardest when the price of electricity is at its lowest, slowing down at times when it peaks. This of course helps the National Grid to balance supply and demand whilst delivering cost saving benefits to the consumer. Without access to smart and automated technologies, the required shift in the way energy is used in homes ultimately relies on consumer behaviour change. What we need to see is smart homes that make life simple.
Smart home technology has an unquestionable role to play in enabling households to participate in the future energy system. Running seamlessly in the background and removing any need for the consumer to change their behaviour or compromise comfort, automated technology such as smart thermostats and TRVs mean that households can more accurately match their energy consumption with their needs. This flexible energy use also makes for a more flexible energy system with less wasted energy.
As we empower households to change the way they use energy through the use of technology, we can further support the use of renewables and create an energy system that benefits everyone. Renewables made up a record 40% of the UK’s total electricity generation in 2020, which is clearly a sign of great progress, but the National Grid alone will not be able to maintain the balance between generation and demand.
It is essential that we change the way we generate and use power in the UK, both in business and at home.
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