With over four million meters installed in the UK, multi-national manufacturer and supplier Secure Meters has a 30-year reputation of helping social housing customers’ better measure and manage their energy use.
Our latest commitment to innovation has seen the business make a long-term investment in internet of things (IoT) solutions, and our plan is to work with landlords to develop a series of new connected homes products over the coming years.
Looking back, the term ‘internet of things’ was first credited over 20 years ago to American Kevin Ashton in a presentation to Procter & Gamble in 1999. During the presentation, Ashton said, “If we had computers that knew everything there was to know about things, using data they gathered without any help from us, we would be able to track and count everything, and greatly reduce waste, loss and cost.”
Although in this instance Ashton was mainly talking about fast-moving consumer goods, it didn’t take long before manufacturers recognised the value of IoT to the property market. The potential of IoT in social housing can at times feel almost limitless, which poses both an exciting and slightly daunting question: where do we start?
It has been interesting to witness that once housing professionals understand the basic concept of home sensor technology, they are alive with ideas about how to deploy it. But the question isn’t necessarily what is possible from a technical perspective, but what can deliver the right measurable financial and social returns on investment?
Connectivity and bandwidth are the key elements to bring IoT solutions to life. Relying on tenants to supply wireless connectivity isn’t a viable long-term solution, and we need to get homes connected to the web both for the benefit of tenants and the landlords.
And there lies the huge potential of IoT in social housing: dual landlord and tenant benefits. Tenants benefit from greater control, improved service and a more responsive, better-informed landlord. And on the other hand, landlords can make better, evidenced-based decisions, improve service delivery and efficiency, and better manage their property assets.
Although Secure Meters plans to eventually deliver a range of IoT solutions covering energy, tenant health, safety and welfare and asset management, we decided to start with our strengths and launch a smart heat control product called Beanbag. As with any new solution, we wanted to better understand market expectations and need, so earlier this year we commissioned a broad survey of UK social asset, sustainability and energy managers.
Below are the results of three of the key questions asked, along with reaction from Southern Housing Group’s senior home energy advisor, Patryk Szczerba (Southern Housing has been assessing a 20-home Beanbag smart heat control pilot installation over recent months).
What are the most important benefits of smart heat controls?
Interestingly, at a time when cost and efficiency savings are perceived to be the highest priority for housing providers, it was tenant support and welfare-related benefits that came out on top, in particular reducing bills and tackling fuel poverty.
Southern Housing’s Patryk Szczerba said, “Although it’s the asset management value of smart heat controls that could potentially save landlords significant money over time, the most obvious upfront benefit is reducing tenants’ fuel bills.
“This is the starting point for many landlords: can the cost of heat be reduced without compromising the quality of warmth in the home? If the answer to this is yes, then it’s a massive tick in the box.”
What are the asset management benefits of smart heat controls?
We have been long aware of the damaging impact of humidity and subsequent mould growth, and Secure Meters has recently partnered with the University of Southampton’s faculty of engineering and environment to better understand the problem.
Szczerba said, “Mould growth is an expensive, perennial and ongoing problem. There are health implications for tenants exposed to mould growth for prolonged periods of time, including nasal lung conditions, asthma and allergies in children. Removing and stopping mould growth isn’t always a simple process and often requires a combination of tradespeople and services to fix it. This can include the complaints team, housing managers, surveyors and contractors. In the meantime tenants may have to be rehoused. It all mounts up.
“Smart heat controls should be able to help in a number of ways. Firstly, they can alert us to the homes with problematic levels of humidity, allowing us to take preventative action before mould growth takes hold. Secondly, it should provide my team with the information needed to have an informed conversation with the tenant. If we can see that humidity is spiking at say meal or shower times, we can suggest ventilating the bathroom or putting lids on pans.”
What are the main barriers to the adoption of smart heat controls?
The two main barriers to adoption identified are the upfront capital investment needed and confusion over various technologies. The issue of capex isn’t a surprise, and in our experience landlords would rather spread the cost by paying monthly for managed services, with guarantees that products will be maintained and kept up-to-date as part of any contracts. With solutions evolving so quickly, you can understand why landlords are anxious to avoid purchasing ‘yesterday’s technology’.
Szczerba said, “Smart heat controls should provide ongoing financial, environmental and social benefits, and this return should be balanced against upfront costs. However, keeping upfront capital costs as low as possible definitely makes purchasing easier.
“There are a lot of different connected home technologies out there from a growing number of suppliers, and in an ideal world they would all be able to integrate and work together, but landlords understand that’s never going to be the case. As well as conducting their own trials to test and compare various new technologies, landlords are also sharing pilot and installation data. This should prove reassuring to landlords and speed up the mass adoption of the right solutions.”
For the full smart heat technology market intelligence report please visit www.yumpu.com and search for ‘smart heat technology’.
Nigel Ebdon is the market development manager at Secure Meters UK Ltd.