Dozens of homes across the UK are set to take part in an electric heating study that could hold the key to unlocking more capacity for low-carbon heating.

Real-world consumer behaviour from UK Power Networks’ Neighbourhood Green project will be analysed to understand the exact amount of electricity capacity required to keep residents feeling comfortable, especially during the winter period across 2022/23. The trial will get valuable data on how homeowners with different types of low carbon heating like heat pumps, underfloor heating or panel heaters, are using their systems to keep warm.

The project will make use of PNDC’s and Energy System Catapult’s new energy innovation test and evaluation facility – the Whole Energy Systems Accelerator (WESA) – to monitor energy use by homes with these low carbon technologies, and digitally map those onto simulated networks.

Engineers will compare real-life data from around 60 houses with a model of a ‘one in 20’ freezing winter, where demand for electricity would be unusually high. This insight will help UK Power Networks plan its interventions efficiently to secure ‘room’ on the network for more heat pumps in future.

The grid operator is forecasting between 300,000 and 700,000 electric heat pumps operating on its network by 2028. At peak times, when most people are at home using electricity, the average home could consume 52% more energy with an electric car charger and heat pump.

UK Power Networks is planning £4.6 billion investment between 2023 and 2028. The company’s investment proposal covers a range of grid upgrades to make sure people can use low carbon technologies where and when they need, so nobody gets left behind in the transition to Net Zero.

Ian Cameron, head of customer services and innovation at UK Power Networks, said:
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“It’s our job to make sure that our customers are able to connect low carbon heating easily and quickly, whenever they choose to do so. Neighbourhood Green is helping us gain valuable insight so we can plan ahead to make sure they have that choice.”

Richard Knight, director for strategy and technology at research hub PNDC, said:
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“Through WESA – the collaboration between PNDC’s real-world testing & demonstration facilities and Energy System Catapult’s Living Lab – we look forward to supporting UK Power Networks’ Neighbourhood Green project in assessing the operational flexibility potential of low carbon technology and accelerating consumer-facing energy innovation.”

David Wyatt, WESA technical lead for Energy Systems Catapult, said:
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“We are very excited to be using our WESA facility, together with our collaborators at PNDC, to help UK Power Networks plan the future of their network in a Net Zero world. Whatever direction the UK takes to decarbonise, changes in electricity use patterns will be substantial, so it is important for electricity network operators to gain a preview of how real customers are likely to behave in decades to come.”