Colin Timmins, H&V Portfolio Manager at BEAMA, delves into how the rise of smart technology will change the role of the installer.

The recent rise in the availability of ‘smart’ thermostats is likely to be the start of a changing world for home heating installers. Undoubtedly, some will see this as a business opportunity to exploit the growing convergence of the telecommunication, data, and energy sectors as manufacturers embrace traditional products linked to the ‘Internet of Things’.

Alongside the rollout of smart metering, there is a wide range of new products emerging to utilise the energy use data that smart metering provides. Detailed data will be available to the consumer through an app or in-home display, and they can choose to share this near real time data with a third party or a service provider in order to take advantage of additional services.

A wide range of new technologies are likely to become available that use this data and intelligent automation to offer benefits on their own, and that can form part of a system of web-based interconnections between appliances and devices (the Internet of Things). 

These technologies will comprise smart lifestyle products (intelligent assistants, smart security, entertainment systems etc.) and smart home energy management systems, with an overlap of products doing both.

When we talk about energy management, we primarily mean managing heating and hot water in the home, and this is why such changes are so relevant to heating installers. It may not be enough in the future to simply install standalone heating systems in homes. For example, it could be necessary to ensure that a boiler connects to other devices or fits into an existing network of communications within a home.

The introduction of Boiler Plus has already started this process, with installers increasingly having to think about how a boiler might need to communicate with a smart thermostat or, in some instances, a load compensating device.

One of the biggest challenges of having systems and devices communicating with each other is to make sure that they can understand and work with each other – otherwise known as interoperability. It obviously makes life easier from a technical perspective if products can easily talk to each other, but it is also likely that many consumers and specifiers will want confidence in interoperability so they do not become locked into specific brands or communication protocols. 

Interoperability provides greater flexibility when extending systems to reflect changing needs, and avoids excess wastage where products have to be thrown away because they are not compatible with a new service provider’s products. In the future, we might see heating installers asked about the wider communication ability of their products (and not just between the boiler and a thermostat), and for them to be expected to advise on this.

Data security is another big issue with connected systems and one that installers will need to consider, not just in relation to the products they are selling, but also in terms of providing customers with wider advice on how to set up, use, and connect such products.

The current market for heating systems works well, with millions of individual relationships between householders and heating installers every year. However, the emergence of smart technologies could ultimately see energy sold as a service, with market and business models emerging that allow a utility to agree a set price for delivering an agreed level of heat, warmth, comfort, convenience, and other services. 

If such approaches were to become widespread, it would create a different role for installers, who will be expected to have knowledge and experience of connecting heating and hot water systems with other devices and services.

It’s easy to be sceptical of the impact that new technologies will actually have and, for all of these changes to fully emerge, consumers will need to see smart technology driving genuine changes and benefits to their lifestyle and energy bills. They will need to become part of the fabric of ordinary people’s lives (as mobile phones have done) and not just expensive toys. 

That said, smart and connected products are already a part of life for heating installers, and their influence is growing. It makes sense for installers to be at the leading edge of technological developments and to make sure they continue to be seen as the home energy experts by their customers, as there will undoubtedly be other market players wanting to take on that role.