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First residents move into ground-breaking homes in Wales

FLATLINE, an industry led research project aiming to demonstrate the viability of a demand-side approach to energy management at domestic level, has reached a major milestone as residents move into three pilot homes at The Mill site in Cardiff. 

Backed by the Department of Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, the ‘Fixed Level Affordable Tariffs Led by Intelligently Networked Energy’ (FLATLINE) project aims to significantly reduce residents’ energy bills, using a combination of domestic Demand Side Response and demand shifting for both heat and electricity.

The specially built pilot homes at The Mill development site in Cardiff will be closely followed by a further 46 homes at a separate site, Parc Eirin in Tonyrefail – which will see first residents move in this autumn as the first phase of the 225 new home scheme is complete.

The project is being coordinated by Sero which will provide its intelligent home comfort service to the residents, working collaboratively with energy optimisation software developer PassivSystems. A number of other industry partners are involved in the project including Tirion Homes, Pobl Group, Western Power Distribution, Sonnen and Mixergy. The energy partner will be Octopus Energy, supplying 100% renewable electricity and facilitating half-hourly tariffs through their Agile API.

The new residents will be the first to experience using Sero’s user-friendly app, which will control the energy network for each home, and intelligently draw, discharge and anticipate energy demands, almost completely avoiding the National Grid at peak times using Octopus’s proprietary Agile API, saving money and carbon intensive energy. To achieve this the schemes will use a mix of energy technologies including ground source heat pumps, thermal and electrical storage in the homes, photovoltaic generation and smart controls for residents.

Using residents’ preferences – such as their chosen room temperature, hot water needs and overall lifestyle – Sero will forecast energy demands as well as generation using intelligent software. This will control in-home energy storage to shift the impact of energy demands on the grid, using factors like weather and behaviours, to inform the algorithms that run the systems.

These measures will optimise performance yet be practically imperceptible to residents, apart from through lower energy bills. Through integration of all the technologies into a whole home energy system, it is anticipated that the raw cost of the energy for the homes, excluding management costs, could drop by more than half and therefore drive residents’ fuel bills down.

Sero will manage the energy systems of the homes flexibly, through a combination of buying energy at cheaper times and opening up the benefits of grid balancing payments. This will enable energy demands to be effectively matched to grid generation – reducing both carbon emissions and the cost of energy to occupants.

James Williams, Managing Director of Sero, said: “Hitting Zero Carbon requires a dramatic change in our approach to energy and housing. The homes at both The Mill, and then Parc Eirin, will provide a demonstrable blueprint for this agenda – leading the way in showing, at scale, how we can better complement the electricity network as it moves to more intermittent, low carbon energy sources such as wind and solar.

“The FLATLINE concept proposes a win-win-win scenario: flexible and intelligently-managed energy use resulting in significantly lower bills to home occupants – practically eliminating the risk of fuel poverty; electrical demands on the National Grid being shifted entirely off-peak to help support renewables on the grid; all whilst delivering lower carbon emissions in a new UK business model that can lead to growth at home and abroad.

“This demonstration phase of FLATLINE will show the world what we can achieve using the technology we have today, providing a springboard to evidence the viability of this future ‘comfort as a service’ business model.”

Colin Calder, CEO of PassivSystems, said: “Having the opportunity through FLATLINE to  demonstrate a whole home energy management solution, bespoke for newbuild homes, has been a great opportunity for us. Seeing first residents beginning to use the intelligent control systems installed at The Mill is a real highlight in our journey to help decarbonisation, and a culmination of many months of hard work. It draws on our extensive expertise of delivering optimum comfort at minimal costs for residents, while reducing the impact on the grid and the environment.

“The government has been challenging home builders to put the environmental credentials of homes at the heart of the design, and FLATLINE provides a real world blueprint for how this could be done.”

Phil Steele, Future Technology Evangelist at Octopus Energy, said: “The residents moving into The Mill pilot homes are pioneers in a consumer-led renewable energy system. Using our Agile API, the FLATLINE project will benefit from cheaper, greener energy at off peak times, perfect for sustainably charging a battery and testing out how we can reach net zero faster through consumer level engagement. With more homes to follow, this first phase is just the beginning of a green home transition that is long overdue.”

The project is supported by the UK Government’s Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy competition for Domestic Demand Side Response. The Welsh Government’s Innovative Housing Programme has also supported delivery of the The Mill pilot homes and Parc Eirin.