Connected homes and EV charging: a communication challenge

smart home illustration with woman touching phone
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Andrew Gaved reports on elemental’s recent webinar on the challenge of integrating smart appliances, new heating technologies and EV charging within the ‘connected home’.

One of the key considerations when planning ‘connected’ homes is how to ensure efficient communication between appliances, heating and, increasingly EV charging – and appreciating that the requirement for better and more integrated communication applies to the suppliers involved too.  Our recent elemental webinar heard from Kelly Butler, Strategy Director of electro-technical body BEAMA, which is working on updated guidance for integrated these home services with EV charging:

He noted that this integration had to have customers at its heart.: “For me the most important thing here is that we’re building an environment for connectivity, which is all about a regulatory environment and consumer protection. But what about the customer? Will it improve the cost of running their home, will it improve the price of their home? Will it improve their lifestyle? What you don’t want is an external operator coming into your home and saying, ‘I’d quite like to discharge your battery because I need some extra load on the grid. But I didn’t know that you’ve already set an event to happen two hours later, to charge your car at the most beneficial time. That’s why a home energy management system is so critical here because it’s the logic that manages everything in a connected home. It could be cloud-based, it could be physical, but it’s absolutely integral to having a fully connected home and not simply little boxes of connected appliances.”

Fellow panelist James Major of buildings energy specialist HubbPro stressed that ‘connectedness’ needs to apply to the supply chain as much as to the technology.

“Newbuild properties could provide a big opportunity to look at projects more holistically between the contractors, the housing developers, the housebuilders and the utilities operators. As we head towards an electrified world, we all know that there are challenges around the grid particularly around peak demand periods of time. We can think about meeting that at a local level – managing demand response with connected homes, battery systems and EV charging – but at the same time, we need to think how we can manage services across a slightly bigger area rather than just a single home – so we need to think about things like community battery systems.”

Demand-response

A key challenge with encouraging more use of demand-response features, Kelly noted, is that it is only the most tech savvy – or financially savvy – customers  who are going to want to be actively involved in energy management.

“One of the primary policy reasons for doing demand response is that there’s about a 30 GW gap in generation transmission distribution capacity that needs to be made up before we can meet this electrified future – yet customers generally don’t care about it until their lights go out. So, whilst it will need some level of connectivity and flexibility to be able to manage the peaks and troughs, actually the customer doesn’t really need to know about any of that.”

The momentum, the panelists agreed, is likely to come from energy providers, who will increasingly be offering ways to manage energy in the home – whether that is through incentives or intelligent control systems.  James noted that improvements in the ease and speed of capturing energy data will also improve the scope for energy management:

“For a house, I think by getting that data right at the start in newbuild, it starts to open up conversations between different stakeholders – How do we help the customer understand why it’s a great thing to have an energy efficient house and a sustainable home? Once you start having the energy management systems, you can get more stakeholders involved, not just from housing construction, but from the energy industry, bringing in EV chargers into the mix.”

BEAMA is one of the industry representatives on a working group with the government looking at how to standardise the interoperability around a home, ensuring that different technologies such as heat pumps, consumer energy management devices and EV charging all ‘talk’ to each other.

Kelly said: “If you have proprietary interoperability systems and controls, that’s a problem. You’ll end up with stranded assets and things that don’t work… if a customer invests especially at high value and it doesn’t work, you’ll get negative media negative perception and that will grow. We have got to get it absolutely right.”

Whilst the Building Regulations now mandates the installation of EV charging facilities, there is currently no minimum capacity for the charger written into the regs, he added: “What you don’t want is housebuilders putting in three and a half kilowatt chargers or something that is not much better than a 13-amp plug. You want to push towards higher capacity charging. But then you’re into DNO connections and three-phase connections – and how much is that going to cost the house builder?

Our webinar panelists agreed that with smart home, heating and EV charging technologies all developing rapidly in parallel, this is going to be a crucial time to get good standards in place.

James said: “With heat pumps, we know that if they are designed and commissioned correctly, they will work efficiently, so we need to have monitoring into place to make sure that we’re getting the right seasonal performance, so we’re getting good performing heat pumps. Then it should be about getting solar PV on the roof of the houses and getting the EV charge points in place. There is now good technology out there to link all this together – for instance, I have seen good results from the customer trials undertaken by MyEnergi. There are several challenges around whether you go for traditional approach of it being connected to the home or whether you get the DNO involved for quicker, faster charging. That places the emphasis on the distribution network for the connectedness rather than the home…”

One of the other crucial areas to get right in creating connected homes is the quality of the installations – and that comes back to ensuring that the right skills are available, our panelists agreed. Given that James Major also owns a mechanical and electrical contracting company alongside his monitoring business, he is particularly well-placed to comment:

Installation skills

“I think that with heating installations, it has been seen as a plumber’s job, so we need to understand where that line in the sand sits for the electrical contractor to play their role on the project…There are still plenty of contractors in this space that don’t understand basic heating controls and it’s so important as an industry that we address that first, rather than running towards the bigger opportunity with connected homes – making sure that we are  teaching the fundamentals at college level – because once there’s that understanding, it opens up the doors to bigger, more exciting things.”

This increased opportunity for electrical specialists also translates into more opportunities to bring new people into the industry. James said:

“I think for us there’s a huge opportunity now. When I started my career as an electrician, a house was just twin sockets and light switches and that was about it. Connected homes are so much bigger now, they’re so much more interesting… But I think that it is also important to make sure that we’re getting manufacturers on board with the opportunities as well because by bringing the manufacturers in, you’re capturing the attention of those guys training.”

It is a direction of travel that Kelly agreed with, although he believes that it is in the heating arena that the skills and knowledge need to be built up: “My concern on skills is less about the connectivity and more about getting the supply chain engaged with the technology of heat pumps and other low-carbon technologies. We talk a lot about heat pumps, but there’s other technology like smart thermal batteries…How do you encourage installers in a very conservative market? I think EVs are a different kettle of fish. I think there’s a lot more understanding, a lot more service offering out there than there is in the heat space. We as BEAMA think that that is the major barrier at the moment for electrification of heat: We will be able to make a consumer case when a clean heat market mechanism comes in and we see a narrowing on costs between heat pumps and boilers. But if we don’t take the installer with us, it ain’t going to happen.”

The webinar can be viewed in full on the elemental site.