Go behind the scenes of our Equinox trial for heat pump owners

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Our flexibility team work on amazingly geeky stuff to help automate and optimise energy use in the future green energy system.

The latest trial they're working on is called EQUINOX, it's for customers with heat pumps - designed to unleash the very greenest home heating and saving customers cash in the process.

To pull it off, the crack-squad of ‘flexperts’ from Octopus’ Flexibility Team are joining forces with National Grid ED (a network operator, responsible for pumping electricity down the wires to your homes), a range of other specialist organisations. Together, we’re investigating customers' potential to unlock the ‘flexibility’ we need to streamline the electrification of heat, and bringing the benefits - lower energy bills and a greener grid - to people like you and me.

You can now join EQUINOX for the opportunity to earn £100 for helping us and National Grid ED research cheaper, greener heating for all.

What exactly is Equinox and how does it work?

If you join the Equinox trial, all you have to do is turn off your heat pump for a few hours from time to time - when the UK's energy mix is especially dirty. Given the way heat pumps work, this shouldn't make your home any less comfortable, and we'll pay you for getting involved.

How does it work?

  • Between December and April, we’ll occasionally ask you to turn off your heat pump for two hours
  • We’ll give you a days’ notice (by email) to tell you when we’d like you to turn it off
  • It’s always up to you whether you take part or not
  • You have to be an Octopus Customer with a connected smart meter and live in the right area (covered by National Grid Electricity Distribution)
  • We’ll ask you to fill out a few quick questionnaires: one before and one after the trial, and might ask you a couple of questions along the way

And for your trouble…

  • You’ll earn around £100 credit on your Octopus account over Winter 
  • You’ll be top of the list to get one of our cutting-edge Octopus Home Minis so you can track your energy in real time from your phone

Switching off your heat pump for a few hours shouldn’t mean you’re any less cosy. 

Because heat pumps warm your house more slowly and gently than boilers, you can simply put on the heating a while before the two hour window to build up warmth, and go back to heating your home once the event is over.

Limited spots available – let us know you’re up for it and we’ll be in touch in November with more information.

Have a heat pump of your own?

If you've got a heat pump, a smart meter we can connect to, and you live in an eligible area, you can register to join the trial!

Be part of cutting-edge research to help the UK move to green heat

A Heat pump graphic, showing a house with a heat pump

In 2020, home heating (largely dirty gas boilers) were responsible for an eye-watering 19% of the UK’s total carbon emissions. And as you might expect, reducing our dependence on gas is vital for hitting the UK’s Net Zero targets, and it couldn’t be more important as gas prices go through the roof. Fortunately, there's already a tried and tested alternative solution: heat pumps.

These clever devices are green, reliable, and incredibly energy-efficient – and we're investing millions to bring affordable heat pumps into homes up and down the UK.

Electrifying heating will take a huge amount of carbon out of the atmosphere, and it’s exciting to see heat pumps overcoming challenges left right and centre: they’re getting cheaper to build, install, manufacture, and are easily capable of heating the home to the same temperatures as gas boilers.

Heat pump as seen in another graphic

Still, all these heat pumps will need power, so Octopus’ Flex team are also working out how to address the resulting rise in electricity demand. With that in mind, we’ll need to unlock more flexibility on the grid, and via EQUINOX (the Equitable Novel Flexibility Exchange), Octopus’ flexperts will be rewarding customers for getting. They're making sure the trial reaches a broad cross-section of energy users so we can better understand how flexibility benefits a wide range of homes. They're also committed to ensuring vulnerable customers and those experiencing fuel poverty can benefit too.

So what do we mean by 'energy flexibility’?

To give a bit of background, our electrical grid must always be well balanced. Energy supply (ie all the electrons generators produce) and energy demand (what everyone in the UK uses) must always match up to avoid power cuts or damage to grid infrastructure. To function healthily, the grid must be flexible, able to ‘turn up’ and ‘turn down’ supply and demand to ensure they always match up. That wiggle room means the grid can adapt easily when either supply or demand changes unexpectedly.

  • One path to energy flexibility involves adjusting energy supply; turning energy generation ‘up’ or ‘down’ in line with demand. For years this has meant turning dirty fossil fuel generating stations on when the country begins to use more energy. But as we leave fossil fuels behind, this increasingly means calling on batteries and other energy storage devices to release any clean, green energy they’ve been holding on to.
  • But in a world powered by renewables, we also need to flip flexibility on its head; we can't just make the sun shine or the wind blow whenever we want. We can unlock huge amounts of flexibility by encouraging people to adjust their energy usage in a way that lines up with the availability of green electrons. This is consumer flexibility.

This people-powered flexibility might involve rewarding customers with cheaper power for using energy when the grid is chock full of cheaper, greener renewables, and disincentivising energy use when energy is in high demand, the grid is stressed, and there is a risk that the UK will have to turn on more fossil fuel power stations to meet that demand. (This happens more often during the troublesome ‘daily peak’ - between 4-7pm, when the sun is low, and demand is high).

In the past, it was assumed that individual people's flexibility wouldn't make much of a difference to the wider grid. Yet a wide range trials have shown that collective smart energy use can make a MASSIVE difference. For example, Octopus' Crowdflex trial used smart tariffs test the potential for home-energy flexibility and found that ordinary people could reduce the grid's peak demand by a massive 10%. This is exactly what EQUINOX hopes to explore with regards to heat pumps.

Lessons from CrowdFlex: the UK's largest domestic ‘demand-side’ flexibility study: technical level 🌶️

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Octopus will be drawing on the lessons from another similar trial: ‘Crowdflex’. Crowdflex revolved around using cutting edge smart tariffs like Agile Octopus and Octopus Go to explore the (huge) potential for unlocking home energy flexibility - as EQUINOX looks to do with heat pumps.

CrowdFlex was the first phase of a study investigating how households can help balance the grid by shifting their electricity demand to match renewable energy supply. In partnership with smart charging platform Ohme, Octopus worked with National Grid ESO and Scottish & Southern Electricity Networks (SSEN) to analyse over 25,000 households' energy consumption patterns from 2020 onwards, providing insight about the ways behaviour can be influenced by price signals and quantify the value of flexibility available.

Households were incentivised to shift their energy consumption through price signals from our Agile and Go smart tariffs (prices change every half an hour according to the price of wholesale energy, offering cheaper energy when renewables are more abundant). They were also given instructions from Ohme's smart EV chargers and mobile app. Big Turn Up and Big Turn Down events were run to gather data on participation rates and behaviour patterns, and they also looked at these smart tariff customers' historical consumption patterns - aggregating and anonymising results - to see what insights could be drawn.

The results were incredibly powerful: the data shows that households are responsive to price signals through time-of-use tariffs and that domestic consumers can play an important role in grid balancing services. They also showed that EVs will be one of the largest contributors to people-powered flexibility.

Octopus used the results to estimate the technical potential of the home energy flexibility that households may be able to provide the system across Great Britain (GB) in 2030.

Customers on Octopus Energy’s time-of-use electricity tariffs (Octopus Go and Agile Octopus) lowered their usage during the evening peak by 15-17%. Households with electric cars slashed their usage even further, reducing demand in the same timeframe by 23%.

Over the coming decade, EV uptake in the UK is predicated to soar. In a 'High EV uptake scenario', Octopus found that consumer flexibility could reduce ‘peak demand’ by up to 10% (6.8GW), suggesting a 37GW demand turn up flexibility potential.

With that in mind, we also need to factor in the growth in electricity demand from heat pumps, and look at how that demand could be addressed by domestic flexibility...

So where does EQUINOX come in?

Given that electrifying heating is set to increase energy demand, EQUINOX aims to offset that rise in energy use by laying the foundations for a more ‘flexible’ energy system. Such a system would incentivise, encourage and enable people to ‘shift’ their heat-pump usage in a way that grants the grid additional flexibility.

In other words, EQUINOX customers will save a ton of cash if they can avoid powering their heat pumps when energy is high demand, which is usually during the troublesome 4-7pm ‘daily peak’ (when renewable electrons are generally harder to come by, energy is more expensive, and the grid comes under more strain).

An image of a boiler

Now, at a glance, shifting your heating might seem inconvenient, but because of the way heat pumps work it couldn’t be easier. Where combi boilers are designed to be reactive (you say ‘heating on’ and the boiler will burn loads of dirty fossil fuels at several hundred degrees to heat your water up right then and there), heat pumps warm your water - and so your home - gently, for longer, and much, much more efficiently.

In fact, the longer and more gently your heat pump warms your house, the more efficient (and cheap) it is to do so. This means that in winter, you can start heating your home several hours before you arrive home, take a break during any 'peaks' in demand, and then continue heating your home afterwards. This is exactly what EQUINOX will encourage people to do, rewarding them for shifting electric heating to times when energy demand is lower (again, usually outside the daily 4-7pm ‘peak’).

An image of a rising graph

At a time when gas prices are high, trials like EQUINOX could not be more important. On one level, switching to electric heating will obviously reduce our reliance on gas as we ditch gas boilers. But that’s not all. When electricity is in high demand and renewables are scarce, the National Grid generally has to turn to expensive gas generators.

By shifting heat-pump usage away from high demand - customers will reduce their contribution to troublesome peaks and in doing so, the need for the electrical grid to turn on as much gas power. This should help customers, and the grid, save vital cash at a time when gas prices are through the roof.

Home energy flexibility’s potential to reduce strain on the electricity grid is also set to remove the need for expensive network upgrades. As it stands, customer-driven flexibility, as pioneered by the EQUINOX trial, could save the UK £8bn a year according to the National Infrastructure Commission.

This trial will give us hugely valuable insight into consumer behaviour, and the potential for incentivising flexibility. It will take placeover the next three years, beginning in March 2022 and finishing in December 2025. EQUINOX plans to enroll over 1,000 participants by 2023, at least 500 of which will be Octopus Energy customers.

Laying the blueprint for a greener energy system:

Octopus is committed to bringing the benefits of the green revolution to people like you and me. From the Windy Day Fund to the Big Dirty Turn Down, EQUINOX is only the latest in a series of cutting-edge Octopus trials, designed to reward people for getting involved in the quest for a smarter, greener, fairer energy system. At a time when energy is already expensive, trials like this - which reduce our dependence on dirty, expensive gas - couldn’t be more important. Watch this space.

Published on 16th March 2022 by:

image of Jackson Howarth

Jackson Howarth

In-house Writer

Hey I'm Constantine, welcome to Octopus Energy!

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