DEFACTO: Digital Energy Feedback and Control Technology Optimisation

Lead Research Organisation: Loughborough University
Department Name: Civil and Building Engineering


Digital technology (DT) pervades our everyday life, most obviously in computers and smart phones but less obviously in household products such as washing machines, refrigerators and electric showers; it helps these run efficiently with little human intervention.

As the cost of energy rises, there is a growing interest in using DT to monitor home energy use. All UK homes will soon have smart meters, enabling us to see how much electricity and gas has been used each half hour. We might choose to use this information to alter the way we do things and so save energy, but equally, we might not.

Many manufacturers, like Secure, which is a partner in this study, are making smart devices to help us control how and when we use energy. These vary from simple looking, but internally quite sophisticated, thermostats and timers to systems that will enable us to control every radiator in our homes, and to do this from our smart phones.

Right now though, we have very little idea of how much energy these DT devices and systems might save, if any, and in which households they might work best. A recent study showed that they can actually increase energy use if not operated correctly. Some small studies have shown that smart systems can save energy at first, but we don't know if they will continue to do so as households grow and change, or as the novelty wears off. The first aim of this project is to find out how much energy, if any, DT can save and for how long the savings endure.

To help reduce the nation's energy use, and to make our homes more comfortable, the government will soon launch the Green Deal. Coordinated by the Department of Energy and Climate Change, which is also a project partner, the Green Deal will enable households to take on loans to pay for energy efficiency measures. The loan will be paid back through the energy bill, which must be less than it would have been without the refurbishment; the so-called Golden Rule. Companies like B&Q, another project partner, plan to refurbish many thousands of homes a year.

Unfortunately, refurbishment often saves less energy than expected, risking contravention of the Golden Rule. This would be upsetting to households and, if widespread, it would fatally damage a refurbishment business and the credibility of the national Green Deal programme. DT can help because it enables energy use before and after refurbishment to be monitored, which helps us predict what the energy demand would have been had the refurbishment not taken place. Compliance or otherwise with the Golden Rule can therefore be tested. The second aim of the project therefore, is to find out how best to use DT to improve the effectiveness of Green Deal refurbishment.

The study will focus on homes that have extensive refurbishment, because in these homes we expect households to be more interested in their energy demand and so more inclined to use DT to control their energy use. This is an area that has not been studied before at the scale, or over the time period we envisage. Trials will be conducted over a five year period in around 600 homes, divided into three groups, each with a different digital energy saving device or system. The homes in each group will be segmented by household characteristics.

The study will shed light on such questions as: can the provision of feedback and control be just too complicated? Might it lead to higher energy use in some households? Would simpler devices work better in some households? Just how much additional energy saving do smart devices generate? Can the DT systems be improved and if so how?

The project will provide answers to these and other questions and so be of enormous benefit to Green Deal providers, DT device and systems manufacturers, national and local government officials and, of course, UK householders themselves, giving them confidence to invest in refurbishment and effective control of their energy bills.

Planned Impact

The project has potential for significant impacts at different levels. At a global level, it addresses the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions resulting from the burning of fossil fuels to provide energy for heating homes. To do this, it supports the UK's main national policy for domestic CO2 emission reduction, the Green Deal, as well as helping to tackle fuel poverty by making homes warmer.

The success of the Green Deal policy depends entirely on households using less energy after refurbishment of their homes. The project will not only help households make informed decisions about their energy use, it will provide evidence of the energy savings, the factors that affect them and information on how savings might be maintained or improved. This evidence will increase confidence in the Green Deal, the credibility of Green Deal providers and the quality of the installers' work; hopefully leading to greater uptake of energy efficient measures by households and so further energy savings. By reducing the energy demand of households, pressures on the energy supply will be eased, improving the security of the UK's energy supply.

By reducing energy use, households will benefit financially at a time when fuel prices are rising and income is falling. Warmer homes will lead to improvements in health, with all of the associated long-term benefits, especially advantageous for an ageing population spending more time at home. It will also provide householders with better information to understand and control their energy use, becoming aware of its value. Around 600 householders, comprising over 1,000 individuals, will see these benefits directly during the five years of the project, with many more benefitting from what is learned within the project's life time.

Green Deal providers and installers will benefit from the measured energy data that they receive, helping to maintain the quality of their work and subsequent customer satisfaction. This should lead to more installations, improved profits and higher tax revenue. The improved training of home energy surveyors and installers will have a direct impact during the life of this project.

It is hoped that when households see the benefits of digital technology, it will reduce concerns over data privacy, thus helping the rollout of smart meters. This will stimulate the entire market and create opportunities for new businesses specialising in digital technology and refurbishment, vital over the next ten years to combat the economic recession. These benefits will start to materialise right from the beginning of the Green Deal rollout via the close links between academia and business, each providing the most appropriate skills and sharing the knowledge gained more widely.

Other countries are also working towards refurbishing housing stocks and implementing digital technology to control and provide feedback about energy use. This work will thus also benefit businesses operating overseas.

In summary therefore, the project will have global and national benefits that are technical, social and economic during its lifetime and into the future.
Description Side-by-side trials in full size-test houses enable relatively small energy savings resulting form energy efficiency measures to be measured.
In one such trial, the space heating in one house was controlled conventionally (CC) according to minimum requirements in UK Building Regulation Part L1B for existing dwellings, whereas in the other house Zonal Control (ZC) was used to deliver heat to the rooms only when they were 'occupied'. Normalisation and extrapolation of the results showed that, compared to CC, ZC could reduce annual gas demand for space heating by 12% in most regions of the UK but deliver similar indoor temperatures during the occupied periods. ZC would be a more cost effective energy efficiency measure in homes in the cooler, more northerly regions of the UK.
Exploitation Route The findings represent the first concrete measure of the energy saving potential of zonal heating controls for UK central heating systems.
Sectors Construction,Energy

Description The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) is using the work to guide its strategy regarding the requirement for heating controls in the building regulations, and the Departments own policy position on such controls. The research team have a DECC-funded project to review the evidence base around the energy saving, efficiency and usability of controls.
First Year Of Impact 2015
Sector Energy,Government, Democracy and Justice
Impact Types Policy & public services

Description Advice on Home Energy Management System project
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a advisory committee
Impact Knowledge about the energy saving potential of home heating controls and especially their usability.
Description DECC Heating Control Review
Amount £8,908 (GBP)
Organisation Department of Energy and Climate Change 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 02/2016 
End 03/2016
Description Data Analysis for ETI
Amount £20,000 (GBP)
Organisation Energy Technologies Institute (ETI) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 06/2015 
End 03/2016
Description Energy Follow-up Survey 2017
Amount £2,500,000 (GBP)
Funding ID na 
Organisation Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2017 
End 08/2019
Description Smart Meter Research Portal
Amount £5,796,232 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/P032761/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 06/2017 
End 05/2028
Description UK Energy Follow-up Study 2017
Amount £30,000 (GBP)
Organisation Building Research Establishment 
Sector Private
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2027 
Description Department of Energy and Climate Change 
Organisation Department of Energy and Climate Change
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
Start Year 2004
Description ETI 
Organisation Energy Technologies Institute (ETI)
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution They will receive timely delivery of research findings
Collaborator Contribution They attend partner meetings and provide project guidance.
Impact No outputs or outcomes at this early stage.
Start Year 2013
Description Honeywell 
Organisation Honeywell Hymatic
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Collaboration planned but not started. They will supply the zonal heating control equipment for the main study (for around 50 houses). We will feedback household's use of this equipment to Honeywell. They will also receive timely delivery of research findings.
Collaborator Contribution Collaboration planned but not started. They will supply the zonal heating control equipment for the main study (for around 50 houses).
Impact No outputs or outcomes yet
Start Year 2015
Description IEA Annex 71 participants 
Organisation University of Leuven
Country Belgium 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Provision of data for model validation and work within the IEA Annex tasks.
Collaborator Contribution Access to and ability to collaborate with international research teams working in the field of energy demand characterisation and building thermal performance diagnostics.
Impact Improved methods of characterising dwellings and their energy demand using monitored data.
Start Year 2016
Description Mark Group 
Organisation Mark Group Limited
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution They received feedback on products and would receive delivery of research findings
Collaborator Contribution Mark Group was the installation partner in the DEFACTO project. The original aim was to use the project as a training process for their Green Deal installation teams. However, the collapse of the Green Deal resulted in Mark Group entering administration part way through the initial monitoring equipment installation phase of the project.
Impact The pilot study phase of the project was completed and Mark Group installed smart heating controls in 12 homes. Monitoring equipment was also installed in around 180 houses for the main study.
Start Year 2013
Description National Energy Services 
Organisation National Energy Services
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
Start Year 2004
Description Secure Controls (UK) Ltd 
Organisation Secure Controls (UK) ltd
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution The DEFACTO project tested the monitoring equipment supplied by SECURE both in our labs and test houses, feeding back to allow modifications to be made to the final products before installation in the main study houses. Secure Controls will also receive timely delivery of the research findings
Collaborator Contribution Secure Controls supplied central heating controls and home monitoring equipment at cost price, are providing technical support, and attend partner meetings to provide project guidance. The DEFACTO project tested the monitoring equipment and controls both in our labs and test houses, feeding back to allow modifications to be made to the final products before installation in the main study houses.
Impact Monitoring equipment installed in around 180 homes
Start Year 2013