At the heart of the project lies a technology known as air source heat pumps. Basically an air conditioning unit in reverse, the heat pump compresses and condenses heat from outside a building to produce space and water heating inside, with a radically reduced carbon footprint.

The three-year £20m Smart Communities Project began in March 2014 following a six-month feasibility study. Around 600 residential social housing properties in Greater Manchester were selected to take part by Wigan and Leigh Housing, Northwards Housing and Six Town Housing.

In its first year (2014-15), a quarter of the properties will have their electric or gas central heating boiler replaced by an electric heat pump. The trial will test different types of heat pumps such as an electric model and a hybrid model powered by gas and electricity. The project will also trial some heat pumps which have a buffer vessel which provides extra storage for heat Energy usage at the properties will be monitored via a broadband connection.

The hybrid heat pumps will automatically switch to the cheapest form of energy at the time they are needed. The aim is to flatten out the ‘peaks and troughs’ often seen in local energy demand, while at the same time helping to switch homes from gas-fired central heating to renewable or electricity-based sources.

The trial will provide the data to help us understand customers’ use of energy. It will also help us to see the extent to which this could work to reduce energy usage and provide a real-time demand-response on the network. This will have benefits for all, as a demand response drives down costs, without any loss of comfort.

Technology from the Smart Street Low Carbon Networks Fund project will enable project partners to make the most of this opportunity to really make a difference to customers and the network.

Future developments using smart meter data will provide even more information to improve the services offered to customers. There is also further potential for such schemes to be used to help reduce bills and tackle fuel poverty, which we will investigate as the trial progresses.

Extending the trial

As an extension to this trial, Wigan and Leigh Housing Association is trialling a new ‘telecare service’ with 20 of its tenants. The telecare services use the same broadband connection set up in homes as part of the Smart Communities trial and are another way to offer support services to those vulnerable customers in their homes. This new service enhances the pull-cord and phone options for monitoring that currently send an alarm for the warden or support manager. The trial will be monitored to see if there are any ways that vulnerable customers can be better supported, particularly during power cuts.

Partners and funders

The project is a partnership between New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organisation of Japan (NEDO), the UK Government, and the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA).

The project has been developed and delivered in close cooperation between local stakeholders including Electricity North West (ENW), the University of Manchester and the Housing Companies of the Metropolitan Districts of Wigan, Manchester and Bury and the Japanese entrusted companies Hitachi, Daikin, and Mizuho Bank.