Understanding customers’ perspective when developing low temperature DHC networks

There is an EU ambition to create “Energy Citizens”, which will be actively engaged in the decision-making process of choosing the means of energy supply as well as in making conscious choices around their energy use. However, it is safe to claim that currently most of the end-users neither are engaged nor even sufficiently aware about their energy consumption. Energy is present in our daily lives as a comfort factor and people tend to only consider it, e.g., in case of heating and cooling, when it is not present. One of the reasons for this, is that people’s relationships with energy providers are conducted only via an energy bill. If energy consumers are to become more proactive in their energy use, a change in how that energy is perceived by the users is required, i.e. from energy as a product to energy as a service.

Before any changes to the relationships between energy suppliers and their customers can be proposed though, a better understanding of how and for what purposes the customers use the delivered energy is vital. Within the scope of the REWARDHeat project, a detailed analysis focused on the heating and cooling demands in residential buildings was conducted. The analysis was performed with the help of questionnaires sent to several professional customers, i.e., building owners, and several end-users, i.e., people occupying living spaces, and addressed the following issues:

  • Which indoor comfort requirements are the most important for the customers?
  • Is comfort demand flexible and has a temporality?
  • Are the customers willing to pay for “greener” heating and cooling supply?

The results of the performed analysis indicate that the most important indoor comfort requirement is temperature. Most of the respondents – 51%, replied that comfortable indoor temperature is the most important factor for them, with another 25% of responses indicating that evenly distributed temperature in all living spaces is the most important aspect. This indicates that other indoor comfort requirements, e.g., air quality, draughts, noise from HVAC equipment, are of lesser importance and deserve lesser attention, than temperature, when engaging customers into more active energy use.

The research shows that some indoor spaces and some periods during a day have higher importance to the customers than other spaces and periods. E.g., the responses from the customers clearly show that ensuring good indoor climate in living rooms, dining rooms, and bathrooms is of the highest importance. Garages and basements are the least important spaces in which good indoor climate must be ensured. Surprisingly, according to 40% of the respondents, bedrooms are not so important when it comes to good indoor environment. Regarding the aspect of temporality, domestic hot water use is identified to be less flexible than space heating and space cooling. In other words, constantly available access to hot water is regarded more important than stable provision of space heating and cooling. Half of the respondents indicated that access to hot water is equally important throughout a day, but especially vital during the morning hours. According to more than 50% of the replies, space heating is the most important during the evening hours. Space cooling is required during the day, as could be expected.

Lastly, our results show that more than half of the respondents (56%) are willing to pay more for “greener” heating and cooling supply. Most of these people would be willing to pay 1-5% more for their energy supply. However, 18% of all the respondents would not mind if their energy bill increased by 6-10% if that implied more renewable energy sources in the energy supply mix. These results show promising prospects for the companies that try to promote sustainability and strive to offer “greener” solutions to their customers.

To conclude, temperature in some rooms and during certain period of a day can be changed with no consequences for the customers’ comfort; a substantial share of customers is willing to shape its energy use and even pay more for “greener” energy options. These results indicate that the end-users are increasingly ready for flexible heat supply and to actively participate in shaping heat solutions for their buildings.

// This article was written by Dmytro Romanchenko
Expert Energy Systems Modeller at the Swedish Environmental Research institute (IVL)

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