Housing in the UK hasn't fundamentally changed in over 100 years. Give or take a few experiments with off-site manufacture and of course bespoke architect designed homes, they are pretty much the same as they have always been. What is changing radically is the landscape around them. Whether that is in Information Technology, the way we work and the way we live, this change has been accelerating over the last few years and we are on the cusp of another major step change – this time in energy.
And we are seeing this changing landscape coming together with a piece of technology that has been around in our homes for over 30 years. It has often been seen as a poor choice that comes at a high cost and delivers low performance, but it could now form a key part of delivering an entirely new way of managing our homes.
Has the time come for us to re-evaluate electric heating? Is it time for the bete noire of home tech to come out of the dark?
Let’s be honest, electric heating was installed because energy companies wanted to sell customers electricity when it suited the energy companies and when developers wanted to cut the cost of installing heating in new homes. It didn’t provide affordable, manageable heating for householders, it created millions of householders who hankered after gas central heating and a big headache for property managers from the number of complaints received.
So what’s changed to make us reconsider electric heating? First, the easy one: technology has got much much better – the latest High Heat Retention Storage Heaters are much much more efficient than their distant cousins from the 1970’s.
The second change is in the new tech that is now available for energy storage and energy generation, for example from photovoltaic panels.
We now have the ability to generate electricity on site and manage energy in the home. In practice it means that we can generate, import, export and use energy when it makes most sense.
The third change is in the energy markets. Despite the limiting narrative about the energy industry being made of big bad energy companies out to extract the last penny from our cold hands and that it hasn't changed for 50 years, the sector is undergoing a revolution that will transform who we buy from, when we buy, and just as importantly how we can sell too. We have seen many many new entrants to the energy markets, some of whom are simply smaller versions of the big energy companies. But we are seeing new entrants who are determined to shake up the market and yes lets indulge ourselves here – they are going to disrupt the energy markets and create some creative chaos out of which new products and services, and more competition will emerge.
But none of this will happen without the final piece of our jigsaw – the roll out of smart meters in our homes. We can argue whether smart meters are that smart, but just by virtue of their ability to allow two way communications AND two way control of energy in to and out of our homes, they will be the heart of this revolution.
So most of this is happening regardless of electric heating right? So what’s the big deal with electric heating? In the good/bad old days we used to call them electric storage heaters (just so we didn’t confuse them with electric direct heaters) and that’s the key word here – storage. We have in millions of our homes an ability to store energy. And this combined with energy generation, the new domestic batteries, smart meters and changes in the energy industry means that they can play a key role making our homes a part of this new landscape. What it means is we can import electricity when it is at its cheapest; and that could be at any time of the day or night; it means we can use or store electricity in storage heaters or batteries, it means we can generate electricity and use or store when it makes the most financial sense, and it means we will be able to export electricity when we can get the greatest return.
The effect of all this? Householders will have electric heating that provides efficient warmth when they want it, and they will pay less for that heat, and that heat will not be at the cost of carbon emissions. Residents may still hanker for gas heating but it’s getting to the point where swapping may not always be the right choice.