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[Podcast Series] Can Data Be the Path To Net-Zero Homes?

Homes will become the biggest consumers of electricity by 2050. While electricity is the cleanest form of energy, we still have to contribute to make homes smart and sustainable. In this series, Manish Pant will invite global CEOs, key opinion leaders, industrial analysts, innovators, energy optimists of all sorts, and we’ll talk on how to tackle growing climate change concerns by reducing carbon emissions at home, how we can leverage smart technology and digital innovation so that we can collectively work towards the goal of limiting temperature rise to 1,5 degrees. Podcast With Manish Pant, EVP Home & Distribution, Schneider Electric

Climate Change with Net-Zero Homes

On the first episode of the new podcast series we have – Manish Pant chats with Patrick Caiger-Smith, Chairman of geo – Green Energy Options (https://www.geotogether.com/) about how we can manage one of the largest consumers of electricity in our homes better: heating. We explore how working from home has made an impact and how we can use smart technology to monitor and control our energy usage more effectively to achieve Net Zero goals. Join us on the journey to developing smart and sustainable homes.

Listen to the complete podcast here:

Want to follow the conversation closer? Read the transcript of Climate Change with Net-Zero Homes Podcast episode #1: “Can data be the path to Net Zero Homes?”

Manish: Hello, and welcome to the Climate Change with Net Zero Homes podcast. I am your host Manish Pant, and I am responsible for driving net zero homes innovation within Schneider Electric. At Schneider Electric, we believe that access to electricity and digital connectivity is a fundamental human right. But we also know that energy usage is one of the main causes of increased carbon dioxide emissions and climate change. This is particularly the case at homes where we spend most of our time these days. So, we need to find a balance between the growing energy need and battling climate change. This is exactly where net zero homes come in. Throughout this podcast series we will bring to you many experts and thought leaders on this topic, and today here with us, we have Patrick Caiger-Smith, who is the Chairman of geo – Green Energy Options.

Patrick: Thank you, Manish. A pleasure to be here!

Manish: Great to have you with us, Patrick on this first show and looking forward to our chat! Maybe just to give you a bit of background… Heating is one of the top contributors of energy waste in homes today. So last year, Schneider and Geo started working together on smart and sustainable heating solutions for homes in the UK. For those who’ve not met Patrick, he is an entrepreneur, very passionate about the environment, and he is also presiding over a number of associations representing smart home and electricity systems, like BEAMA. Patrick is joining us today from Cambridge, UK. Welcome to the show once again, and how are things going there, in that part of the world?

Patrick: Really good. We’ve been advised to work from home if we can, as many others have, so this discussion about home energy management is really timely, Manish!

Manish: I couldn’t agree more with you on this one. I’m here in Hong Kong where I’ve seen that my energy bills have been increasing since the time we have been spending at home, and I think this is the topic that we are going to talk about today.

Patrick: Definitely, and the price of electricity just shot up in the last month here in the UK, as well.

Manish: Interesting, and clearly we all need to spend less and become more sustainable as we are going to increase that usage of energy in our home. We still need to make sustainable choices and manage the comfort as well, at the same time, without giving up lifestyle choices. So the question that comes to mind Patrick is: Does a “couch to net zero” really exist?

Patrick: I’d like to think that that can be done. Not overnight, it will take time, but we can go a long way with the help of modern technology. In fact, as solution providers, if we don’t make it simple for people, it simply won’t happen. And certainly, industry partnerships, like ourselves, bringing the best of technology together, can certainly set us in the right direction.

Manish: True, and talking about our partnership and about technology, the question is that comes to mind again is that as we increase the adoption of technology in our homes, does it mean that our energy consumption is also going to go up?

Patrick: Really good question, and the response isn’t really binary, that’s one of the challenges. As we add more appliances into our homes, clearly we are going to consume and need more energy. But I guess the trick here is how do these smart home technologies get connected and managed centrally, how do we understand how much each appliance is using, and by doing that, we then understand the potential for eliminating energy wastage. I think most of us have gotten used to leaving devices on when they probably don’t need to [be on], for example. The real challenge is finding the personal bandwidth for us to figure out where the wastage is happening in our homes. And that’s where technology can really come in to help.

Manish: Very well said, and maybe that leads for our audience to be thinking, what is it that they can possibly do to have a positive impact on our planet or I’m just a person living in my home?

Patrick: Yeah and everybody clearly has a part to play. I think if everybody contributes and does what they can manage, then collectively we’re going to make a difference. And I think that comes right to the heart of what we do. As a company based in Cambridge in the UK, it’s a very old center of science and innovation in Britain, and we’d like to think that the solution is actually technology coming into people’s homes. What we need to do is to make it really easy for people to transition into this new energy environment, and technology is certainly going to be an enabler for that. But you know, Manish, there’s also psychology at play here… Getting people to fight the battle against climate change. I really believe that everybody can contribute, and the mood is changing in the right direction and people are feeling their individual responsibility. And I think you did a survey recently in Britain which said that most people wanted to see their homes as net zero homes within their own lifetimes? Is that right?

Manish: That’s right, Patrick. Nearly two-thirds of global emissions are linked to both direct and indirect forms of human consumption, meaning our homes, personal transportation, etc.  We need to make people aware of that first and the behavior change that you talked about, and then the easier we can make it from the technology point of view, the bigger impact we’ll be able to have. So to your point on net zero homes, I think what we need to do is build and retrofit homes with the owners’ needs right at the center. So, for example, at Schneider we have created Wiser, which is our connected home ecosystem, which is an equivalent for the ‘Fitbit for the homes’. It’s telling you the amount of energy consumption that is happening inside your home and what you could be doing to make your home smarter. In fact, what we say is that homes should not just be smarter, but they must become wiser.

Patrick: That’s interesting. And if you think of energy as being the ‘lifeline’ into your home, would you say that smart technology needs to take the role of being the brain of that energy use?

Manish Pant

Manish Pant EVP – Home and Distribution

Manish: It’s a very good metaphor! And I would agree that the right use of digital tools and insights that we get from data can make our energy consumption, energy loss and energy wastage visible to the user. The more visible it is, we are able to take action. As they say, ‘out of sight, out of mind.’ So if you can’t see it, how can you make intelligent decisions on energy consumption and therefore sustainability? Households are becoming one of the largest carbon dioxide emitters. And in the survey that you mentioned earlier, we found that only 7% of respondents actually considered homes as a leading contributor of emissions. So this is something very counter-intuitive, don’t you think?

Patrick: Absolutely agree. On the one hand, we’re piling in lots of new technology into our homes – TV, air conditioning systems, fridges, freezers… I think we have three times more appliances now than we did 40 years ago in the UK in an average home… And yet with all these changes, energy waste has remained really invisible. And we get more and more gadgets, but we don’t actually know which ones are using most of the energy that’s being consumed. So energy awareness is really, really important. We have to empower consumers to make sustainable choices without impinging on their lifestyles too dramatically. We want to change hearts and minds in meaningful ways in order to get to this net zero goal.

Manish: True. And clearly there are two parts of this empowerment story that you describe when it comes to tackling climate change. One is about putting the green energy generation into the hands of homeowners. And the second is giving them the tools to understand where that energy is used, and help them reduce the energy waste, maybe optimizing everything that is both from a supply and a demand side.

Patrick: This is one of the places where technology really has a role to play. As we continue to decentralize our energy system by putting renewable generation into homes, that allows them to create their own green power, but it also makes the job of managing that energy and managing it automatically much more challenging and that where the technology really comes in. We have to make it simple and automated in a way which doesn’t confuse or put too much pressure on consumers.

Manish: True and that’s our thinking, as well. So the digital tools that you just described combined with electrification and modern artificial intelligence capabilities will help us change the game when it comes to making net zero energy homes. Today, we know that two-thirds of the global building sector’s energy consumption is supplied by fossil fuels. So if we can start to convert that and use rooftop solar panels, ground source heat pumps, battery storage, which will all decarbonize our energy use, it would be a step in the right direction. This is something you do, even if a ‘green’ tariff isn’t available in your area, and you can start to make a difference. Of course, it comes with an investment that has to be there, but at least it’s… One step at a time.

Patrick: Definitely, and yet you’ve got regulations coming into play which are acting as major drivers for removing fossil fuels from within the home.

Manish: We need incentives which would drive that, and that’s a good transition to our next topic which is around heating and cooling specifically. As we know, it is one of the largest contributors to energy consumption in the home. Is there something that is happening on the regulation environment regarding that?

Patrick: There’s a huge amount happening regulation-wise in Europe. It’s moving very quickly. I’d say probably in the last two years, it’s moved faster than it has in the last 10 or 15. So, for example, in the UK and in the Netherlands, there are plans now to phase out carbon-based heating, that means all gas boilers and fuel boilers. In France, you’ve got maximum heat allowances per square meter, which is now regulation. And the EU in the way the EU does these things, is increasingly tightening the energy performance of buildings directive. So all of these things are pushing us really quite hard towards that net zero target. And Manish, in the UK, a recent prime minister’s statement about getting to net zero set a target of six hundred thousand houses having heat pumps in them by 2028. That’s an enormous infrastructure spend on new electric types or forms of heating.

Manish: We need incentives which would drive that, and that’s a good transition to our next topic which is around heating and cooling specifically. As we know, it is one of the largest contributors to energy consumption in the home. Is there something that is happening on the regulation environment regarding that?

Patrick: There’s a huge amount happening regulation-wise in Europe. It’s moving very quickly. I’d say probably in the last two years, it’s moved faster than it has in the last 10 or 15. So, for example, in the UK and in the Netherlands, there are plans now to phase out carbon-based heating, that means all gas boilers and fuel boilers. In France, you’ve got maximum heat allowances per square meter, which is now regulation. And the EU in the way the EU does these things, is increasingly tightening the energy performance of buildings directive. So all of these things are pushing us really quite hard towards that net zero target. And Manish, in the UK, a recent prime minister’s statement about getting to net zero set a target of six hundred thousand houses having heat pumps in them by 2028. That’s an enormous infrastructure spend on new electric types or forms of heating.

Manish: Well, that’s great. I think that when the drive is coming to regulation, there is such a big push from the government, it’s clearly going to make that inflection point which is required to move toward a greener planet and towards net zero. Now having talked about that, the transition from gas to electric heating is clearly very important, and the UK is taking the lead, as you say, and the rest of Europe, as well. Now I live in Asia, in Hong Kong, where cooling, being a tropical environment, is one of the biggest drivers for consumption. Do you see smart home technology also accelerating on the HVAC side?

Patrick Caiger Smith

Patrick Caiger Smith CEO at geo

Patrick: Absolutely. We can’t suddenly dispense with gas boilers in every single home. 85% of homes [in the UK] have got boilers in them today when we’ve got 29 million homes. So what is really possible though is that only 15% of homes have any form of smart heating control in them. And believe it or not, there are still homes which have no thermostat at all in the UK. So a lot of people are living with very, very basic controls. On the other hand, we’ve got a mass roll-out right now with smart meters and smart meters can give really quite extensive amounts of energy information. So one of the things that we have been working on together with Schneider is a system which uses this valuable stream of data from the smart meters and introduces it into intelligent heating controls where radiators are connected to the internet, control systems created within the internet, and it uses this really rich, granular data coming from the smart meter. And by using that in real time, we can give consumers, householders, visibility of what every single change to their heating settings is doing to their bill. It’s the same information that will turn up on the bill itself. And that’s something that we’ll be launching together in 2021, this winter.

Manish: True, with that, it is about the availability of data, which is really the starting point of where digitization comes in and energy visibility comes in. You mentioned today that not all devices are natively connected and there is an opportunity for us to make it happen so that we are able to bring the data and make it visible for us to have intact, linking to the smart meter that you describe, which will be a very effective way to bring energy management into the home.

Patrick: Absolutely! We know that asking people to change their lifestyles, especially when they’re relying on digital technologies for work, entertainment, schooling, and everything… It’s a lot to ask. What we’re trying to do from day one is to help people make their houses greener – that’s the name of our company, Green Energy Options – but in order to do that and be able to have any momentum, one has to bring the consumer on the journey with us, and helping to automate heating and cooling in the home so that people can see the tangible outputs of the technology at play is a really important factor here.

Manish: And at the end of the day, it’s not about consuming less electricity, but it’s about consuming better, ‘greener’ power and managing the comfort of the lifestyle, and at the same time reducing waste. We know that electricity is a more efficient source of energy, and as we are progressively electrifying heating and cooking and powering our homes and with the electric vehicles with electricity derived from solar wind, we’ll find our carbon emissions dissipating from our homes entirely.

Patrick: I think if we are going now to see the adoption of our type of technology, what we’ve been developing together, then what is really important is getting the utility players into that part of the story. We feel it’s really important to build the highest standards of efficiency which is encouraging also the house builders to adopt the most efficient housing stock that you can and to bring new technology into play right from the start when houses are built.

Manish: That’s a great point that you make about new build. In fact, one of the surveys that we did showed that 45% of the consumers expect new homes that are built to be equipped with smart home solutions, and this is only going to grow more [going] forward. Now at the same time, while there is a need on the new build, you also have the digital retrofit of existing buildings, which is of course the largest base that we have to change if you want to really move into making this planet reach the 1.5 degree temperature rise. And at the same time, we have to make our existing home appliances, such as heating, smart as part of the digital retrofit that we are going to do. Now I think the key here is that we must really put the consumer at the center so that we are able to help them make sustainable choices, and it’s up to tech companies like ours to empower them.

Patrick: Absolutely right! It’s also the role of government to introduce proper regulation, too, and to drive changes like the quality of insulation in new build and the like. But from our point of view, we have to encourage the installation of this type of technology in a way which is really not going to add anything to people’s energy bills.

Manish: Well said, Patrick. At Schneider we are also very open and actively embracing the partnership that we have together with you so that we are able to bring those solutions to our customers, and the starting point being the sustainable heating solution that you’re bringing. Thank you for joining us today and being with me on this first episode of Net Zero Homes podcast! After this session, I think our listeners would have got a better understanding of how we are empowering them to become more sustainable and setting ourselves up for net zero homes success! Thank you again, Patrick!

 

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