Have we just discovered the Tesla of heating?

Posted: 11 Nov 2020

Michael Blom

Product Manager

Decarbonising heat is a huge challenge as so many homes are powered by gas - contributing to 15% of the UK’s carbon emissions. Kaluza’s Product Manager, Michael Blom, takes a deep dive into the unique challenges posed by electric heating.

“Once you have driven an EV, you will never go back.” Since joining the product team at Kaluza, I have found this sentiment to be nearly ubiquitous amongst the many EV drivers that I speak to, regardless of which EV they drive.

When driving a Tesla Model 3 myself, it is easy to see why. From its sleek modern lines and ultra-minimalist tech interior, through to its unrivaled acceleration and autonomous capabilities, I can’t help but get lost in the sheer pleasure of the driving experience. But this is losing sight of the real kicker; it costs less than half as much per mile as my petrol car, and there are almost zero servicing costs.

This combination of an improved driving experience, and lower cost-of-ownership, is accelerating us towards a future in which EVs will replace internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles as the dominant mode of road transportation; not simply because they are greener, but because they are fundamentally a better product.

If the future looks bright for EV adoption, then, what about electric heating? In the UK, roughly 15% of CO2 emissions come from space and water heating. In order to reach net-zero, we need to migrate millions of gas heating systems to electric alternatives and power them with clean energy from the grid. The decarbonisation of heat is a huge and crucial challenge, yet headlines on the subject are conspicuous by their absence. Where are the inspirational product launches? Where are the legions of mission focussed fans, placing hundreds of thousands of pre-orders for the latest electric heating tech? Where are the Elon Musks of heating?

Numerous arguments for EVs vs ICE cars apply to heating: far lower CO2 emissions, air quality, safety (gas leaks etc), reliability and longevity. Beyond cost-comparison, there are many upsides to electric heating which provoke powerful arguments to make the switch. If burning fossil fuels out on the roads is increasingly unacceptable, why do we still tolerate it in our kitchens, bathrooms and bedrooms? 

The reality is that the fundamentals that make EVs so appealing to consumers, conspire to work against electric heating. Natural gas is typically less than half the cost per kWh than ‘off-peak’ electricity, and this ultimately means a deal-breaking cost-of-ownership increase for the vast majority of consumers who would consider making the switch. Unlike cars, heating systems aren’t known for being lifestyle products; tempting consumers to stretch for an upgrade by speaking to their aspirations or identity. They are often hidden away in a cupboard somewhere, out of sight and out of mind until the home gets too warm or too cold.

Kaluza and Dimplex's partnership is intelligently heating homes

Kaluza and Dimplex's partnership is intelligently heating homes

Electric heating is already familiar to some in the UK. There are thousands of households that are unable to get a gas connection, and the go-to system for many of them is the electric storage heater; older models of which are infamous for being tricky to programme and adjust. Fortunately, the clunky storage heaters of old are gradually being replaced by sleek new models that are packed full of tech. At Kaluza, we are proud to be partners with Dimplex, who are at the forefront of electric storage heating design. By connecting their latest Quantum heaters to Kaluza’s intelligent platform, we are pushing the performance of storage heating to the limit; incrementally driving down the total cost of ownership, and maximising the use of renewable energy available on the grid.

In addition to modern storage heaters, other electric heating technologies are beginning to attract more attention. Ultra efficient heat pumps reduce the amount of energy required for heating by utilising ambient heat in the surrounding air. These can be combined with heat batteries, which provide a dense form of heat storage; adding flexibility to the system so that energy can be stored at cheaper times, for use when it is more expensive.

Recognising the importance of decarbonising heat, and the fundamental challenges it poses, the UK government has been proactively investing in pathfinder projects, to try and find a way to bring electric heating systems closer to cost-competitiveness with gas. Two notable examples are OVO’s Zero Carbon Heating and Zero Carbon Home projects. Kaluza is excited to be working with OVO Energy and other partners at the forefront of these projects, bringing our intelligent optimisation algorithms into the mix to achieve the maximum efficiency from these new systems. In addition to these government led initiatives, Kaluza is working closely with EDF and Dimplex, optimising 100 storage heaters to heat a home at the greenest and cheapest of times, not to mention the SMILE project up on the Orkney Isles. 

OVO Energy's Zero Carbon Heating Trial - Watch this video and learn more about Kaluza's involvement in this pioneering trial

So, have we discovered the Tesla of heating yet?

The answer is no, but it is not because of a lack of effort. It is because the fundamental constraints of electric heating systems make them a different kind of challenge to EVs. The transition to electric heat may not be as fast or as highly visible, but make no mistake, there is a monumental effort underway to try and make it happen. At Kaluza we think about this challenge every day as we develop our intelligent platform to optimise our growing portfolio of electric heating devices. From storage heaters to heat pumps and heat batteries, we are driving the development of new technology that will help to reduce costs, reduce CO2 emissions, and get us closer to a zero carbon future.

About the Author

Michael Blom

Product Manager

Michael is a Product Manager at Kaluza, working on the connection and optimisation of our portfolio of electric vehicles, home batteries and electric smart heat devices. Prior to joining Kaluza, Michael was consulting for Capgemini Digital where he was responsible for one of the UK's leading online payments products. Michael has a first-class BSc in Computer Science & Artificial Intelligence from the University of Sussex.

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