Heating control device saves energy

A team led by Dr Peter Boait of De Montfort University has developed an intelligent heating control device as part of a £2.1m multidisciplinary Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) project investigating ways of reducing energy while maintaining comfort.

The energy-saving Wattbox device sets its own schedule by learning householders’ habits according to the times they use hot water and switch on electrical appliances. From this, it sets the thermostat to suit the householders’ lifestyles, taking account of the outside temperature.

The device has a simple display with buttons for ’More Heat’ or ’Less Heat’ when the automatic decision does not meet users’ needs. It also shows how much more or less energy is being consumed as a result of their choices.

Hot water is provided just before its normal time of use to save energy, with the display turning red to show that the water is ready.

There is strong evidence to suggest that giving people immediate feedback on their energy consumption encourages them to make savings.

LCD displays showing electricity consumption are not new, but they usually only show the total electricity used in the home. The team is now planning to work with householders to design stylish and intuitive controls that will tell them how their home is using energy at a particular time and what choices they can make to result in lower energy use.

Allowing people to save energy without needing to understand the science is one of the key benefits of the Wattbox. This makes it particularly useful for encouraging people to adopt ’green’ technologies, such as heat pumps and solar hot-water heating, which can be alienating in their complexity.

’Influencing user behaviour can be challenging,’ said Boait, who points to a decade of campaigns urging consumers to save energy. ’Involving people in the design of technology and in developing energy-reduction strategies offers a new opportunity to make real cuts without undermining comfort.’