23.08.2018 | News | 6 MIN READ

We’re Designing A Future For Consumers Where Cutting Carbon Footprints Doesn’t Mean Cutting Back On Comfort

Glen Dimplex is putting customer-centric innovation at the heart of the energy transition. Project Director Rowena McCappin explains how.

We’re Designing A Future For Consumers Where Cutting Carbon Footprints Doesn’t Mean Cutting Back On Comfort

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When Rowena McCappin speaks about the future of energy consumption, it’s worth listening.

As project director at Glen Dimplex, she’s just overseen a €15.5m research and innovation project that spanned five EU member states – and so few are better placed to visualise how the home of the future is going to differ from what we’re used to today.

Or, perhaps more pertinently, how it will differ from what we’ve been used to in the past: shouts from brothers, sisters, fathers and mothers to ‘switch off the lights’, all ingrained in our collective psyche alongside the fear of leaving the immersion on.

“For a start, it will be all-electric,” Rowena explains. “And it will be fully connected.”

“It will have electric heating, electric cooling, a battery for electricity storage, solar panels on the roof and an electric car in the drive. And, of course, an app at the centre of it all so that you can control it both efficiently and remotely. This is all far closer to becoming a reality than most of us might think. This is all technology we have at our disposal today.”

Such fundamental changes in human behaviour don’t come about by accident, or without a struggle. But as we move towards the middle of a century that will be defined by humanity’s response to the growing climate crisis, the will for change is growing.

And where there’s a will, there’s a way.

With a more renewable generation of products and connected technologies coming online, and intense carbon reduction targets to meet, the electricity sector faces unprecedented challenges.

And underpinning this change is the modern consumer – conscious about sustainability but reluctant to compromise on comfort, creating a conflict that would have previously been impossible to resolve.

“It might sound like all those elements can’t sit side by side, but we’re proving that consumers can have the best of both worlds,” says Rowena, who is spearheading Glen Dimplex’s efforts in this space.

It’s a delicate balancing act – and one that will require experts in the field to leverage technology, innovation and creativity to get right.

But in a highly competitive market, this level of innovation simply can’t happen without support, structures and funding. It’s an area that the European Union (EU) has been driving forward through its 80bn programme, Horizon 2020.

The vast pool of funding is the biggest research and innovation programme ever offered by the EU, allowing businesses to compete for the finance they need to take great ideas out of the lab and into the market. Forget baby steps – this is all about game-changing breakthroughs and world firsts that will make a real difference.

Reshaping Ireland’s energy use

Seeing it as an opportunity to deliver on some of its more forward-thinking initiatives, Glen Dimplex quickly seized the opportunity to get on board with the programme.

A consortium, led by Glen Dimplex, secured a 12.5m investment through Horizon 2020 in the area of domestic demand-side management – or, in more simple terms, bringing storage heating into the 21st Century.

Its 36-month project, ‘RealValue’, which finished in May 2018, set out to demonstrate that local, small scale energy storage – in the form of smart electric thermal storage systems (SETS) – could bring benefits to everyone in the energy chain when aggregated and optimised across the whole EU energy system, particularly end consumers.

Co-ordinated by Glen Dimplex, the research and innovation project involved 13 partners across five member states, and saw space and water heating appliances installed across 750 locations in Ireland, Germany and Latvia.

The project delivered a huge leap forward in understanding around how small-scale energy storage systems, when aggregated together, can bring maximum value from clean energy in a more environmentally conscious world.

A new approach to storage

At the heart of the RealValue project were Glen Dimplex’s own advanced SETS systems.

Whereas traditional storage heating systems come with several downsides – not least their propensity to overheat in the morning and leak heat through the day – modern SETS systems, like the Dimplex Quantum system, have benefited from advances in technology and engineering to work far more efficiently.

“SETS has significant benefits over traditional storage heating systems,” says Rowena. “They’re better insulated, retain more heat and don’t leak energy during the day, meaning they’re significantly more efficient. They also give consumers more control of when heat is released, so they get the comfort they want when they want it.

“The most innovative aspect of our system is its ability to be connected to the electricity grid, which brings even greater benefits. This connectivity means that stored power on one system can be used as part of a pool of thermal storage across the wider energy system.

“So ordinary domestic energy users can participate in demand-side management services – where demand is turned up or down in real time to soften peaks in demand or fill in the troughs – without any hassle,” she adds.

“They can enjoy all the comfort they’re used to while having access to the extra revenue and potentially lower bills that taking a more active part in the electricity system can bring.”

Irish mindset grows greener

The work carried out by Glen Dimplex dovetails with a shift in Ireland’s mindset around energy use. Through the company’s own research, it has seen Irish society become more conscious of reducing its environmental impact.

However, while we want to be greener, we don’t want to fundamentally change the level of comfort and lifestyle we enjoy.

“All of the work Glen Dimplex does in the area of energy efficiency and low-carbon heating, that’s all because we care about climate change,” says Rowena. “It’s our responsibility to make sure our appliances are as low-carbon and energy-efficient as possible. What we’ve seen is that Irish people care about reducing their environmental impact, too.

“However, while they are becoming more aware of the energy they’re using day-to-day, they don’t yet have adequate tools to properly monitor and understand how, when and what they’re using.

“Through our connected Quantum system, as well as the growing number of smart meters and energy monitoring tools on the market, consumers can begin to take more responsibility for the energy they’re using.

“They don’t need to own a Tesla to live an environmentally conscious life.”

Understanding consumer desires

Many of Glen Dimplex’s advances in product technology sit on the foundations of the RealValue project. A big part of it involved conducting in-depth research with consumers into what they really care about. These insights have been invaluable in feeding into the company’s new product innovation.

“Innovation is a core value for us,” says Rowena. “Through RealValue, and other projects within the business, we’ve learned that consumers want to do the right thing by cutting their carbon footprint and saving energy, but they don’t want to make onerous compromises upon their quality of life or comfort in the process.

“Our Quantum system, for example, gives consumers simplicity, ease of use and total comfort, while simultaneously allowing them to enjoy lower costs and greener living.”

What the future looks like

With such a deep bank of expertise and a clear focus on what the consumers of tomorrow need, it’s no surprise that Rowena has a detailed vision of the next generation’s energy environment.

“I believe the home of the future will be all-electric and fully connected,” she says. “It could have electric heating, electric cooling, a battery for electricity storage, solar panels on the roof and an electric car on the drive. Glen Dimplex’s future direction will be defined by this all-electric vision – our business will be right at the heart of that home.

“We’re developing technology that will allow consumers to have all these appliances connected and easily controllable from their phone, computer or tablet. Another important aspect of the all-electric home will be its connectivity to the grid, so the electric and thermal loads in your home can be integrated and aggregated to provide grid-balancing services that will earn you money through these exciting new revenue streams.

“Everyone will be able to become an active player in the energy world, but in a simple way. It will all add up to more energy efficiency, more control, more comfort – and the potential for new revenue streams and lower bills.”

Perpetual passion for innovation

As Glen Dimplex continues to lead from the front and reshape the renewable energy landscape in Ireland and Europe, innovation will remain its driving force.

“The energy landscape is changing rapidly and we will continue to be at the forefront of that shift,” says Rowena. “We’re designing new technologies that will push the boundaries in terms of electric heating.

“While many businesses believe they’re being innovative just through product innovation, at Glen Dimplex, it goes much deeper. We’re committed to innovation through every part of our business – through our own people, our customer relationships, our business models, service levels and product offering.

“That’s why we’re leading the way on providing the appliances and innovative technology to make consumers’ lives simpler, where they can simultaneously enjoy the benefits of total comfort and lower costs.”

“We’re committed to innovation through every part of our business – through our own people, our customer relationships, our business models, service levels and product offering.”

Rowena McCappin, Glen Dimplex Project Director

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