The EQUINOX heat pump trial: your questions answered
We’re running the EQUINOX heat pump trial in partnership with National Grid (Electricity Distribution) to reward customers for helping us find out how to make low carbon heating cheaper and greener. Here, we’ve put together a selection of answers to the most commonly asked questions about EQUINOX, in case you wanted to know more.
What is the EQUINOX trial and how does it work?
What is the EQUINOX trial?
The EQUINOX trial, run in partnership with National Grid (Electricity Distribution) is designed to help us research cheaper, greener heating for all, and help you earn money in the process.
It’s aimed at people with heat pumps. These low carbon heating technologies are getting more affordable, accessible and convenient. This is fantastic news for the UK (and the planet) – but it’ll also increase the UK’s electricity demand.
To that, we say: challenge accepted.
The EQUINOX project is designed to investigate how people can become part of the solution by heating their homes in a greener, more flexible way, shifting their usage outside of troublesome ‘peaks’ in energy demand. This way, local grid demand can be ‘smoothed out’ to help circumvent the cost of infrastructure upgrades for everyone.
Seen another way, EQUINOX is a tool for future communities and neighbourhoods. The trial will simulate a green heating future, working out how we might manage if the grid comes under stress and strain, so we can find the best way to build a service to roll out heat pumps on a massive scale.
All you have to do is turn down your heat pump (or turn it off) for a few hours from time to time - when the grid is under a lot of stress and strain. EQUINOX participants were be on the very forefront of the green revolution last winter, and we’re excited to dig even deeper this winter, looking specifically at how the grid can best use heat pump flexibility.
What would I be asked to do if I participate?
Over the winter, we’ll reach out and tell you to turn your heat pump off for a few hours from time to time (we'll sometimes give you notice a day ahead, sometimes on the morning of the event, and sometimes two hours before). The event windows themselves will generally line up with times of peak grid demand.
You will be asked to fill out a short questionnaire after each event to confirm whether you chose to participate and whether you experienced any issues or challenges during the event. Important customer experience and satisfaction data will also be captured via surveys, interviews, and focus groups to help us evaluate the trials. Participation in these research activities helps us evaluate the trials and ultimately make green heating even greener.
What are the rewards for participating in the EQUINOX trial?
The rewards will vary per event! We'll be paying based on KWh of turndown during each event (rather than paying by session, or month, for example). This will be measured against historical consumption (there won’t be an ‘in-day adjustment’, but we are amending the baseline so participants aren’t punished for pre-heating their homes). Those who take part in the EQUINOX trial will be able to earn up to £55 overall for helping us to research green heating.
All customers with a compatible smart meter will also receive an Octopus Home Mini to make keeping track of your energy consumption even easier!
But that’s not all. By taking part, you aren’t just making heating greener and cheaper for yourself, you’re making it cheaper and greener for everybody. The EQUINOX project has already revealed important insights, and this year we're going even further to pave the way towards more flexible methods of heating our homes, shifting our usage outside of troublesome ‘peaks’ in energy demand. This will ultimately make it easier for National Grid to forecast changes in consumption over time and circumvent infrastructure upgrade costs, which are paid for by everyone.
In other words, as we move from gas heating to electric heating, and from petrol cars to electric vehicles, we stand to use a lot more electricity. If this shift is not carefully managed, network operators may have to spend more money than needed on equipment upgrades to account for the extra electricity demand. By finding ways to incentivise people to shift their heat pump usage whilst maintaining their comfort levels, EQUINOX will help us understand how to spread electricity usage for home heating across the day. This will create a more flexible electricity system, delaying or mitigating the need for costly cable expansions and network reinforcement.
What do I have to do to get the reward?
We used our learnings from last winter to design this years' EQUINOX trial to make sure that an average participant who takes part in most events and answers all three major surveys can earn £55 this winter. You may earn less than this if you are already accessing savings through our smart tariffs, as you are already using your heat pump flexibly. There is £20 available for answering all three big surveys (to be answered at the beginning, middle and end of trial)
Make sure you opt in when you’re notified of an event, so that we know to measure your turndown!
How many 'EQUINOX events' will there be?
There will be 15-25 events, depending on what the weather looks like this winter. We’re keen to make sure we capture learnings in different conditions
When will the EQUINOX events be?
Sessions will usually take place during the busiest times of day for the grid so that we can measure impacts when they would be needed most. This is usually between 4-8 pm.
How long is each EQUINOX event?
Each EQUINOX event will be two hours long. We’ll be in touch via email up to 24 hours before an event to tell you exactly when to turn your heat pump down (or off).
How long will the EQUINOX Trial run for?
This year, the EQUINOX trial will run from 30th October 2023 to the end of April 2024. It will run again in winter 2024/25.
How would I be notified about upcoming EQUINOX events?
Before an EQUINOX event, we’ll send you an email with details about the two-hour event period in which you should aim to reduce your heat pump usage.
Sometimes this will be sent the day before, but sometimes notice period will be much shorter as we’re keen to find out what kinds of signals impact heat pump flexibility. You could also be notified the morning of the event, or two hours before the event. The notification period will vary throughout the trial to simulate different needs of the grid at different times.
How do I turn my heat pump off manually?
It depends a little! Each set up is different, so you'll need to find the method that works for you.
Most people will be able to turn off your heat pump at your heat pump controller, maybe on your app if you're using remote controls. If you have a smart thermostat or other scheduling system, you may find it easier to set your target heating temperature low enough that your heat pump doesn't come on (e.g. 16C). So long as your thermostat is set lower than your heat pump’s ‘flow temperature’ (the temperature of the water as it leaves your heat pump to warm your pipes and radiators) your heat pump should stay off.
Don't forget to pre-heat your hot water so that you don’t run your heat pump during the event, please email and we'll help figure it out!
How can I help my house stay warm during an event?
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 EQUINOX event window to build up warmth, and then go back to heating your home once the event is over. There's no need to go overboard (which could cost you unnecessarily) but pre-heating your home by an extra degree or two will make a big difference. Don't forget to pre-heat your hot water too so that you don’t have to run your heat pump during the event if you need some.
Who is eligible to take part in Equinox?
Who can participate in the EQUINOX trial?
To join the EQUINOX trial with Octopus Energy you must:
1) Have a heat pump
2) Be an Octopus Customer
3) Have a smart meter
4) Live in the area served by the distribution network operator National Grid Electricity Distribution (find out who your DNO is here).
Please note that there are also a limited number of places for EQUINOX this Winter!
Can I take part if I’m on Octopus Cosy?
Yes, we're keen to find out how Heat pump Flexibility works in real homes, especially as more customers move to specialist tariffs for their green technologies.
Our time of use tariffs are great, and if you're on one you’re already balancing electricity demand to get access to cheaper, greener electricity. Because you’re already unlocking value from using your heat pump flexibly, you may find that there is less additional value to be unlocked via EQUINOX if you're on Octopus Flux. Still, Your data remains incredibly important and there will also be paid customer engagement opportunities (such as surveys and interviews) so that we can learn about your experience in EQUINOX, which will give you the opportunity to make some extra cash.
Why am I not eligible for the EQUINOX trial?
There are a number of reasons you might not have been able to sign up for EQUINOX:
- This year the number of places for this trial is limited (but the trial will return next winter, with more space).
- We’re working with National Grid (Electricity Distribution) on this project. They distribute electricity in the South West, South Wales and parts of the Midlands (you can check out their supply area here). If National Grid (Electricity Distribution) is not currently your electricity distributor, you won’t be eligible for EQUINOX this year.
- We also require customers to have a heat pump installed and operational by October 30th 2023. (If you haven’t quite got your heat pump up and running by that time, we’ll be in touch next year!)
- Because we need to collect fine grained consumption data during each EQUINOX ‘event’, you’ll need to have had a functioning smart meter installed by 30th October, that we can connect to in order to take part. (If you do not currently have a smart metre and would like one, click here to put your name down)
All other Questions
What if I move house or change energy supplier during the trial?
We need a full set of data for winter so that we can be confident in our results. This year, you'll have to exit the trial if you move home or change suppliers.
Can I be a part of both Saving Sessions, and EQUINOX?
Unfortunately, each of these National Grid run balancing projects have clashing behind-the-scenes requirements that mean that we can’t have customers that participate in both.
You’re welcome to sign up to either and the choice is completely up to you! If it helps you make your decision - EQUINOX involves less work on your part (all you need to do is switch your heat pump on and off at certain times, rather than shifting all usage out of peak times) and is designed to have an average payment of £55, whereas in Saving Sessions, events will be less frequent and more variable. If you change your mind, you can exit EQUINOX during the trial, but unfortunately you won’t be able to rejoin as we need a consistent data flow for our analysis.
Who is involved in the project?
We’re working with National Grid (Electricity Distribution). As one of the UK's distribution network operators (DNO), they own and operate the cables and wires that deliver electricity from pylons to homes and buildings across the Midlands, South West and South Wales. EQUINOX is led by National Grid (Electricity Distribution), in collaboration with Octopus Energy, Sero, ScottishPower, Passiv UK, SP Energy Networks, Welsh Government, West Midlands Combined Authority, National Energy Action, and Guidehouse.
Will I get an Octopus Home Mini for taking part in EQUINOX?
We’re sending out Octopus Home Mini’s to all EQUINOX customers with an eligible smart meter. These nifty little devices should help you keep track of your energy usage, read more about the Octopus Home Mini and what it does in our dedicated blog.
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