Centrica invests in Internet of Things startups and sees 4.5 GW flexibility potential in the UK

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British energy company Centrica is working toward integrating solar, storage and heat pump assets into its customer offer.

The company said deploying residential storage alongside each of the U.K.’s residential rooftop installations could unlock 4.5 GW of flexible energy for the grid and drive down electricity bills. Centrica added, the industry for smart home products that enable costumers to optimize energy consumption is set to be worth £2 billion a year by 2025 in North America and Europe alone.

To that end, Centrica has made investments into two startups that utilize new technologies and digital approaches to smart home integration. One – GreenCom Networks – has developed an Internet of Things (IoT) platform which enables customers to save energy and either reduce their power bills or earn money for power they make available to the grid.

The other startup, Mixergy – spun out of the University of Oxford’s Energy and Power Group – has developed a hot water tank capable of learning consumer usage habits. In so doing, the tank can prepare a correct amount of water to reduce the wasteful heating of large quantities.

Embracing IoT

Sam Salisbury, director of Centrica Innovations Labs, said: “These investments are an important step forward to a time when IoT-enabled technology in the home will operate as a single unit to ensure that energy is used in the most effective way.”

The director added, a greater variety of choice in Centrica’s offering enables its customers to set personal priorities depending on whether they want to save on heat or the energy price or to find more environmentally-friendly solutions. In 2017, the company established Centrica Innovations to invest £100 million in sustainable technology for homes and businesses. The unit has already deployed more than 1 million of its connected home hubs – the Centrica Hive – worldwide.

In November, Centrica launched a trial which used blockchain technology to enable residents of a London apartment block to trade energy from the building’s solar roof. The project, in Hackney, was realized at a 13-block social housing community equipped with PV systems and blockchain energy trading. The aim is to determine which billing methods would be most suitable for customers and prosumers.

Blockchain breakthroughs

Using blockchain, Centrica is exploring the use of flexible tariffs to reduce energy bills while ensuring remuneration for PV system owners. The project will be launched under a “sandbox” exemption from the usual regulations applied by U.K. electricity and gas regulator Ofgem, to explore disruptive technologies.

In Cornwall, Centrica rolled out a program whereby 100 homeowners received free storage systems from sonnen for use in a local energy market.