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PassivLiving Heat: smart energy control for the self-powered future VIDEO

Smart energy needs to be more than a remote control for your central heating like British Gas Hive, or so says the inventor of PassivLiving Heat.

For Colin Calder, founder and CEO of PassivSystems, it’s just the first step towards giving us control of how much we pay for our power, who we pay, and how we get it.

And with energy regulator Ofgem predicting a 60 per cent rise in the cost of domestic energy by 2020, there’s no better time to take control of your heating and hot water bills.

Smart energy systems: Nest vs Hive vs Evohome vs Heat Genius vs OWL vs Tado vs Salus iT500 vs Cosy vs ClimoteCalder said: “Heating and hot water is 80 per cent of your energy cost in the UK, so what better place to start than helping you to control your biggest cost.

“Over time consumers will be encouraged through government incentive schemes to make improvements to their homes in terms of energy efficiency, and install new technology like rooftop PV [solar power] and heat pumps.”

With the nights getting longer and temperatures starting to drop, we decided to take a look at PassivLiving’s Heat system and find out where it could take you in future.

PassivLiving Heat: how it works

On the surface, PassivLiving Heat isn’t very different from British Gas Hive: you’ve got a wireless thermostat, a gas central heating boiler controller and a separate hot water tank controller if you need it. 

They communicate using the low power, long range Z-Wave wireless standard, and are connected to the internet through a hub that plugs into your broadband router.

You log into a web portal to decide when you’re heating comes on and off, and how hot you’d like the house, with iOS and Android apps that give you instant control wherever you are.

The heating schedules are based around four everyday situations: someone’s in the house, no-one’s in the house, you’re asleep, or you’re away on holiday. 

Each can have a different set temperature, and by default there’s always a tank of hot water ready for your In periods, as well as for the end of your holiday.

“It reflects how you live: you’re in, you’re asleep, you’re out, and we didn’t want to second guess occupancy. When we look at our competitors, they’re trying to figure out if you’re at home and using different ways of doing that, whereas our view was that we’re trying to give consumers simplicity of control and the ability to maximise their savings,” Calder said.

The PassivLiving Heat web portal lets you set schedules based on what you'll be doing
The PassivLiving Heat web portal lets you set schedules based on what you’ll be doing

The web portal will also show you day-by-day and month-by-month how your home’s temperature has followed your heating usage, and compares it to outside temperature data for your area.

It’s up there with Hive for simplicity and that’s no bad thing, with PassivSystems’s own research showing that 47 per cent of central heating owners don’t know how to set the timer.

At £279 for an installed PassivLiving Heat system, with 12 months of inclusive servicing, it’s a little more expensive than Hive, especially at £329 with heating control and hot water control.

The company has 5,000 customers, and a year-long trial showed that users can save an average of 23 per cent on their heating and hot water bills. Good, but not enough for Colin Calder.

And those savings aren’t a luxury for the quarter of British homes which are in fuel poverty – spending more than 10 per cent of their monthly income on energy.

At the same time, PassivSystems isn’t convinced that it’s cost-efficient to micro-manage the temperature in every room with wireless thermostatic radiator valves, such as you’d get with Evohome or Heat Genius, because they drive the cost up from a few hundred Pounds to almost £1,000 for a four-bedroom house.

The PassivLiving App gives you quick and simple control from anywhere
The PassivLiving App gives you quick and simple control from anywhere

Knowledge is power

The next stage in PassivLiving Heat’s development is combining usage and temperature information with the cost of gas, so users can see how changing their heating pattern will save them money.

It’s said that running your home at just a couple of degrees lower will cut your heating bill significantly, and PassivSystems is running trials with its customers to see how this works out in the real world.

“We wanted to first of all have an intuitive and easy to use system that delivers instant value and then take them on a journey of how they get a greater knowledge and understanding of why their bill is what it is and what steps they can take to change their cost profile,” adds Calder.

“Everything in your home is going to become connected – fridge, freezer, dishwasher, washing machine”Ultimately, they’d like to combine the technology with the smart energy meters we’re all supposed to have by 2020. There’s a lot of debate about how these should be rolled out, but it’s becoming obvious they need to communicate with other energy-consuming devices in the home.

As consumer tech shows like this month’s IFA in Berlin demonstrated, that will include smart fridges, washing machines or dishwashers, so these devices need to be able to talk to each other as well as to your smart meter and smart heating system.

The next goal is for PassivLiving to be a platform which helps you to find the cheapest energy prices – so your dishwasher will run at night when electricity is cheap – or even buy energy from different suppliers on the open market instead of being tied to British Gas or EDF.

“I also believe the internet of things is going to play a big role in this. Everything in your home is going to become connected – your fridge, your freezer, your dishwasher, your washing machine – and as these energy consuming devices become communications enabled that creates opportunity. 

“We’ll help you to use the energy more efficiently and we’ll help you to buy the cheapest energy – those are two very powerful things and they clearly differentiate the company from most of the other smart heating controls out there. There’s a huge roadmap of opportunity which is going to keep us busy for a few years.”

PassivLiving Heat can control your central heating and hot water
PassivLiving Heat can control your central heating and hot water

Take the power back

PassivSystems isn’t working with any of the big six energy suppliers, and Calder doesn’t expect to do so, because it’s not in their interests.

After all, he points out, they’ve all spent a lot of money on the large scale energy production which is getting more expensive as the Middle East collapses into a jihadishambles and Vladimir Putin rebuilds Russia’s superpower cred at our expense. 

“British Gas have got Hive, but Hive is a remote control system, it’s not trying to get deep, deep, deep savings which is what we are trying to do.

“At the superficial level the big six will want to provide consumers with some of the engagement capability, but I’m not so convinced they are going to be quite so committed to delivering the deep energy savings because it conflicts with their business model.”

British Gas Hive is a remote control system, it’s not trying to get deep, deep, deep savingsThe future for Britain’s suburban and rural homes is going to be mixing home-grown power with bought-in renewable and fossil power.

Right now, the home-grown power in PassivLiving’s mix comes from a planned trial with renewable energy company Good Energy.

This packages a FiT (Feed-in-Tariff) scheme – where you are paid for energy you generate from solar panels, turbines and other methods – with a mobile app, designed to make the FiT submission process easier for customers. 

Good Energy is one of the ‘new utilities’, along with Ovo Energy and Ecotricity, which allow you to mix renewables and local energy sources with traditional gas and electricity generation.

Beyond solar power, PassivLiving’s also working on heat pumps, which draw heat from the air or the ground to generate electricity. It’s a relatively new technology, but one which is maturing rapidly, alongside the tech for batteries which can be used to store renewable energy for when it’s needed.

“The new energy companies really want to give you value and so they would be much more interested in working with us. The big six have these electricity generating assets which is where they make their money.

“On the supply side we’re moving away from big central generating plants to a lot of distributed power generation, whether it’s wind, solar, biomass, whatever, and that decentralisation is an unstoppable trend.”

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