In my previous blog I shared some of the Delta-EE Heat team’s key takeaways from ISH Digital, focussing on the decarbonisation agenda and product innovations. The next two themes we wanted to share are around how heating manufacturers are embracing digitalisation. While this is mainly being focussed around supporting installers – and rightly so - it’s important companies don’t overlook the other opportunities that digitalisation and connectivity can unlock.
Takeaway 3. Supporting installers in the heating transition is – rightly – a key priority for manufacturers.
High efficiency, low carbon heating techs are often more complex than typical boilers. Many manufacturers have been putting a lot of effort into making new heating appliances “plug and play”, which makes appliance installation quicker and easier. But fuel cells, heat pumps and other technologies are still more complex for installers to deal with in the earlier stages of a sale: from trying to explain the pros and cons to end-users, to exploring funding options, to correctly sizing, designing and commissioning the whole heating system – and providing adequate ongoing support.
With the recent boom in heat pump sales into retrofit, it was again no surprise to see the big European manufacturers helping their existing boiler installers learn more about the technology, with Viessmann promoting them as “As simple as a gas boiler” and Bosch’s “Heat pumps made easy” info session. Advances are being made with other technologies, too: with the latest generation of its fuel cell micro-CHP, Viessmann has been able to increase the service interval of the fuel cell module from 5 to 6 years, reducing the work load to maintain them and improving the end-user appeal.
And this support is much needed. In Germany – as elsewhere – the heating trade is facing problems recruiting and training enough new installers. More also needs to be done to help the existing ~370,000 heating engineers to transition to new, low carbon appliances. Today only an estimated ~10,000-15,000 of these regularly install heat pumps. Savvy manufacturers should do well out of providing both the right products, and the right tools and training, to help installers make the transition to non-boiler technologies.
Takeaway 4: Opportunities from digitalisation: heating manufacturers are still mainly focussed on making installers’ lives easier, rather than unlocking end-user values from smart, flexible heating.
In line with point 3, we saw more and more digital tools being showcased from all the different manufacturers, that support installers with all stages of the process: from estimating a building's heat loss and designing a new heating system; to generating quotes; to supporting at installation and commissioning; and then after-sales care via ongoing maintenance, remote diagnostics and remote servicing, arranging in-person visits, diagnosing faults, calling for support and quickly and easily ordering spare parts. Whatever the installer wants to do, there’s an app for it! Some are also combining all aspects into one app, such as the Viessmann ‘Vitoguide’ and Bosch (Buderus) ‘ProWork’.
But there was surprisingly little mention of the additional values that digitalisation can unlock – such as in-home optimisation (Home Energy Management) with solar PV, batteries or EV charging; or flexible operation for grid balancing (residential demand response). The few exceptions were:
- LG Electronics’ launch of their new ‘Smart Home Energy Package’, a bundle of heat pump, PV and battery - plus energy manager, an optional EV charger - mainly aimed at new homes.
- Passing mentions of home energy management systems from Viessmann and Bosch.
- A (small) number of heat pump manufacturers mentioning that their models are ‘smart grid ready’ or can be optimised to work with PV.
Some might argue that perhaps this wasn’t a surprising omission. After all, ISH is traditionally aimed at installers, so it makes sense for manufacturers at ISH to focus on digital solutions that directly benefit installers, rather than digital solutions for end-users.
However, the majority of householders across Germany – and Europe – still buy their next heating system based on recommendations from an installer. So any manufacturer wanting to be a key player in the ‘smart home’ space would do well to be educating their installer network on the benefits to end-users from integrating their heating into a “smart home” system – especially taking advantage of the 100,000’s of homes with PV installations who will no longer be claiming the feed-in-tariff after this year.
Please get in touch with us if you’d like to discuss any of the themes in this blog.