Energy savings – research and evidence

It’s no surprise that the need to see predicted energy savings delivered in practice has led to a growing awareness of the importance of controls. After all, it is only through the correct application and use of controls that any of the theoretical savings will materialise. For example, the savings from insulation assume that there is a similar constant internal temperature both before and after the insulation is installed, and at the very least you need a room thermostat to achieve this.

However, there remains some uncertainty over how to measure the impact of controls and, allied to this, some confusion over what research tells us about controls.

One obvious problem in assessing savings from controls is the degree to which controls depend on the behaviour of the occupants. A survey we carried out a few years’ back revealed a large proportion of householders admitting to bad habits such as leaving the heating on when no-one is at home or keeping the temperature high enough to wear T-shirts all year round. It’s certainly true that people’s choices and behaviour can substantially affect how much heating they use but it would be a mistake to assume that it’s installing controls that leads to bad behaviour – we just need to make sure that people are given guidance on how to use the controls that are installed.  

It is also necessary to have a technical understanding of heating systems to robustly interpret what may be going on within trials. For example, research published by Shipworth et al suggested that average temperatures in homes may be little different in homes whether or not temperature controls are present. Some people took this as saying that temperature controls don’t work when in fact some form of control was being exerted in all houses otherwise they would be overheating, so the interesting question was how the heating was being controlled and what impact this had on energy use (something that wasn’t measured in the trials.) The main research conclusion was that much more work needs to be done in this area, something that we should all be able to agree with.

BEAMA Heating Controls has previously commissioned research on controls to produce solid evidence on what controls do in a real heating system so that we can better inform theoretical models and to help those carrying out future field trials to know what they should be looking for. Results of this research is published here together with analysis of other research to provide a collated analysis of the robust evidence on energy savings from controls.