Digitalised, decarbonised and flexible homes


A Community Energy Fortnight blog by Andy Heald, a Director of Energise Barnsley and runs their innovation projects. Energise Barnsley is lead partner for BEIS funded domestic demand side response ‘Project Breathe’.

Digital, decarbonised and flexible homes - why we are quietly confident this is achievable and the significant role community energy has to play

We will keep this blog short and jargon free, so that you reach the end.

Energise Barnsley are quietly confident that the UK can decarbonise its housing stock, whilst not underestimating the huge cultural shift required for a successful transition, and why community energy will be at the heart of this transition.

Let’s start with the position currently most of us are in:

We have gas boilers (good pricing, supply chain and ease)

  • We haven’t been inclined to get a smart meter (2nd generation)
  • We’ve had it pretty easy in how our homes are heated and our engagement with the system
  • Change is always difficult. For most people (not reading this blog) home energy scores lower down on the list of things to do/care about compared to what we think

What have we achieved in the last decade within our homes:

  • Prosumers, early adopters, the inquisitive and social housing has installed some low carbon technologies, energy efficiency measures or generation measures in our homes at different times
  • Government subsidies have driven down the cost of these technologies and increased the learning curve and supply chains

What can we achieve in the this decade (and tomorrow):

  • Technological improvements/interventions and retrofit can all communicate with one another enabling a decarbonised, digital and flexible home for the future.
  • Horizontal integration of these devices is market ready now

The enabler is the smart meter, home energy management system, smart battery, growth of the time of use tariff market and government subsidy to protect the growth and supply chain of the air source heat pump, whether dual purpose or hybrid heat pump, or equivalent non fossil fuel water and space heating device

How have we come to that conclusion?

  • We’ve proven it via our innovation projects and received further support from ARUP to develop our financial model

What’s the role for community energy and why is it so key?

  • The financial model alone will not propel the drive to decarbonise our domestic housing stock because of the seismic shift which is required post installation of all new technologies, and the requirement to assess the condition of the homes at the point of retrofit installation.
  • To move from gas heating – instant and reliable, to air source heating – low and slow, to control your comfort heating via an app, whilst letting a third party optimise the complex stuff, for your benefit, whilst making the most of your solar and battery to time shift your demand use in sync with a flexible local tariff, requires acceptance and trust of your energy demand data from the third party/community group.
  • After an initial set up of resident temperature inputs, and holiday periods, energy optimisation using building controls, weather prediction and data management, should automate all the savings (cost and carbon), with any trouble shooting or explanation provided by the trusted intermediary to the resident - as much data as desired on demand.
  • If you grew up watching Tomorrow’s World, or are just into tech and smart home devices, this is the decade when all that digital automation aligns together, allowing us to replace gas boilers with heat pumps, batteries, solar PV (not mandatory) and home energy management systems. The costs are permissible for a third party funded model, and the ability to shift demand within the home will reward the homeowner.
  • It is just going to take time and effort for all of us to get used to it, and benefit from it - change.

"We are trying to avoid extra usage between 4 and 8pm. It’s great to visually see how we are saving and avoiding those peaks. Now that we can actually see what we are saving we are pretty chuffed about how things have progressed" - Mikey, Wombwell Barnsley 

One of the tenants whose home is solely powered by electricity through a dual purpose air source heat pump, enjoying 10p kWh unit rates of electricity in February, making additional savings through their solar PV and smart battery, whilst being able to control their room temperatures from their phone on a bus on the way home.