Using the data from heat pumps

When we commission a heat pump installation we always ensure that the settings are optimum for the property. But what no-one will know at that point is exactly how a system will be used by the occupants or how other eternal factors will change the efficiency of the settings. Stiebel Eltron heat pumps hold enormous amounts of data on how systems are really being used that allow customers to fine tune their systems. Yet many installers (and customers) never look at the available information. This always strikes me as a wasted opportunity to save energy and take some competitive advantage. So in this article I wanted to outline a few current ways that I think data should be being used and ask you for your ideas and opinions.

Reviewing Bivalent systems and switch over points

The current fall in the price of oil is an example of how expected external factors can change how systems might be used. Right now I would be advising anyone who has installed a bi-valent system with an oil boiler and air source heat pump with the aim of reducing their fuel costs, to review their settings. Whilst the carbon sensitive part of me hates to say this, the unanticipated change in oil is now sufficient to warrant asking the question whether it might be more cost effective to use more oil and less heat pump. In simple terms air source heat pumps become more expensive to run the colder it is outside, so bivalent systems are generally designed to turn on the boiler when the external temperature falls below a certain point. There are two different ways of running a bivalent system – either turning off the heat pump completely at the set point, or switching the boiler on in tandem with the heat pump. Domestic retrofit and commercial systems which are using an undersized pump in a bivalent system with emitters that run hot like radiators, will typically switch the heat pump off and boiler on at this set point, because at lower external the emitters need a higher flow temperature than the heat pump can provide. For these systems it may pay to switch the heat pump off at higher external temperatures than it did before.

The second class of bivalent system are typically new-build or renovated domestic where the electricity supply was not sufficient to allow for a heat pump sized to 100% of the load, and yet low flow temperature emitters are In use. In this case it would previously have been economic to use the boiler to boost to flow temperatures in conjunction with the heat pump, rather than switch it off altogether. It may now be worth reviewing these systems to see, that as well as altering the switch point of the boiler, if there is now a point at which switching over completely to the boiler is going to be cheaper.

As a note of caution it is essential to stress that even if it is potentially cheaper to change the switch on point of bivalent systems to a higher temperature, it is important to check that this point is still above the temperature at which a back-up boiler must switch on to support the energy requirements of the property. I’ve just advised one client that she needs to stick with her +5 degree switch point, despite the fact that it would now be cheaper to switch it on at 0 degrees, because her property needs the extra power at that point to supply her heat needs. In other words her energy switch over point remains higher that her fuel cost switch over point.

Regular checks to review usage pattern changes

The other main unpredictable in heating installations is people. Although we use fairly robust average figures when estimating how much hot water and heating a given property will need, we all know that no household conforms to an average. More than this, children are born, grow up and leave home, lodgers and extended family members come and go, and all of us at some point die. The composition of households and their needs can change dramatically and in unexpected ways over the course of a few years. Anyone who has had a change in the composition of the household should look at their new heating patterns and hot water usage and adjust their settings accordingly. Let’s say an owner has just retired. Previously they had the heating off whilst they were at work and had the system set for fast response when they came home. Now they want the heating on all day, and it could therefore be far more efficient to drop the flow temperatures of the system to a much lower level. This gives a lower response time, but this is no longer vital, and the overall efficiency of the system increases, compensating for the longer heating periods.

When you install a heat pump, why not sign owners up to an annual (or even biannual) tune up service to ensure that their individual usage data is reviewed and appropriate changes implemented?

Using data for marketing and customer relations

The wall that we often hit in the implementation of such changes is that installers have traditionally worked in a way that the relationship with the customer ends once the installation is complete. I am tempted to argue that every business that installs heat pumps (which are after all a much larger commitment and spend for clients than a replacement boiler) ought to be thinking about changing this model as there is mutual benefit in extending the relationship. My first example of this is a prestigious house builder with whom I have been discussing using the data for fine tuning systems as part of their routine customer maintenance. This is an excellent example of how data can be used to provide ongoing customer satisfaction on a project. This is the kind of service that can be an invaluable sales tool for winning and holding contracts for business such as social housing - where ongoing maintenance and efficiency are expected by a client. Perhaps you don’t have the resources to do this in person, or the desire to remodel your business in this way, but smaller businesses can easily send customers a yearly reminder by text or email with a few pointers on what it might be worth checking themselves this year or offering a set-cost retune service. Or you can offer a free check-up and retune to selected customers in return for a few photos of their home and a few quotes for a case study. This kind of service in return wins you loyalty that beings repeat business and recommendations.

There is also another use of data which does not require a change to your business model at all – to use it for marketing and sales purposes for your upcoming projects. For example:

1.Take the heat emitter guide and review the expected seasonal performance figures. Stiebel Eltron heat pumps typically outperform these; simply take the data from previous projects and show how your projects compare when making a sale.

2.Stiebel Eltron pumps have both heat and electricity metres built in. You can find out exactly what the output of heat is vs the electricity consumed. From this you can create realistic running costs and carbon savings of your projects for display on your website and other materials.

In short, there is some competitive advantage to be gained from the use of the data – why not start making use of it today and along the way save some more carbon?

Now I have a question for you on data. What kind of facts and figures would you like to be able to use and quote to clients? How do you want to use it? And what can we do to help you or provide you with? Please do email tweet us today or post a message on Facebook with your idea