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Innovations in home energy

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Innovations in home energy

Home energy technologies are developing all the time. Companies come up with new technologies, or new features for existing technologies, or just new ways to use the systems we already have. And new evidence is emerging all the time on how well systems work, when they make sense and when they don’t.

We’re always looking for hard evidence to evaluate every new idea, so we can include any successful innovations in our advice. Here are some recent innovations, and a few that have been around for a while but which we haven’t been able to verify yet.

We plan to update this page as we get new evidence.

Page last updated 31/01/2019.

Underfloor insulation applied by a robot

Q bot robot applying insulation

Q-Bot has created a robotic device that applies underfloor insulation to suspended timber floors. A remotely operated device applies spray foam insulation to the underside of the floor.

The robot is inserted into the space under the floorboards via an airbrick or a small access hatch. It surveys the space under the floorboards, then sprays the foam to the underside of the floorboards, which expands to fill the gaps, while maintaining the ventilation space below. According to its owners and creators, the technique can reduce heat loss through the floor by up to 90%, leading to significant savings on heating and reduced carbon emissions as a result.

It won’t be suitable for every home, but this could provide an interesting, less disruptive mechanism for insulating beneath your floorboards.

Hybrid solar heat pumps

Air source heat pumps are a fairly well established technology, but their efficiency can drop significantly if they have to draw heat from particularly cold air, or provide heat at a particularly high temperature. A hybrid solar heat pump uses a solar thermal collector to preheat the air before it enters the heat pump, so the heat pump can then produce water at a relatively high temperature without having to work too hard. This is ideal for producing domestic hot water.

The principle is entirely sound, and the heat pump should operate at a high efficiency and so use only a small amount of electricity. But we don’t have any independent performance data to estimate what the running costs would be and how this would compare to the cost of buying and installing a system.

You should bear in mind that the average household bill for providing hot water is around £80 a year, so if you buy a hybrid solar heat pump that only produces domestic hot water it can’t save more than this on your fuel bills.

Hybrid heat pumps

These are different to hybrid solar heat pumps. They are conventional heat pumps, but with a secondary heat source alongside, usually a gas or oil boiler. The idea is that you can switch to using the boiler instead whenever the heat pump is unable to provide all the heating requirement, or to operate at a reasonable efficiency.

Some people describe these as bivalent systems, but that name can be used for any heating system that uses two different fuel sources.

We can’t currently advise whether there are any situations where it would be better to fit a hybrid heat pump rather than a heat pump on its own or a gas or oil boiler on its own.

PVT

PVT is another hybrid system, but this time it’s a solar PV panel (to generate electricity) with a solar thermal panel (to produce hot water) underneath. The theory says that the solar thermal panel draws heat from the PV panel, which cools it down and makes it more efficient, so you get more electricity generated while also getting some hot water. The hot water will have to be relatively low temperature though if it’s going to affect the PV efficiency (50 degrees Celsius instead of 70 degrees like in conventional systems). You'd then need to have a backup system (such as a boiler, a heat pump or both) to get hotter water, for washing or cleaning for example.

Solar PVT systems aren't eligible for either FIT or RHI payments. They are usually used in very energy efficient homes aiming for zero energy bills, especially when roof space is relatively small, as this system makes the most of the solar energy to create both heat and hot water. Another common use is pool heating.

Automatic switching

sun setting behind electricity pylons

Sometimes it can be difficult to make sure you’re switching to the best deal for your energy supply if you’re not exactly sure how much energy you’re using. And this is going to get harder still as energy suppliers develop new variable tariffs that charge different rates at different times.

So why not buy a robot to monitor your energy use and do the switching for you? Systems like this are now coming onto the market.

 

Solar panels

Read our guide to solar panels, the benefits of generating renewable energy from sunlight, how it works, how to install them and how much you could save on your energy bills.

Solar panels

Air source heat pumps

All you need to know about air source heat pumps, including the different types of pump, how to maintain them as well as the potential costs and savings.

Air source heat pumps

Switching utilities

Read our guide to switching utilities to make sure you're getting the best value for money from your energy supplier.

Switching utilities