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Energy Systems Catapult Living Lab

Part of How Governments Support Clean Energy Start-ups

How Governments Support Clean Energy Start-Ups highlights and unpacks government initiatives that help entrepreneurs get new clean energy technologies to the market, and offers recommendations to inspire innovation policy for net zero emissions. Read the report, and explore the case studies.


Government: United Kingdom

Responsible government entity: Innovate UK, a part of UK Research and Innovation

External partner: Energy Systems Catapult

Target type of innovator: Innovators with novel clean energy products or services seeking real-world consumer feedback or data to refine their offering and reach market quicker

Links: https://es.catapult.org.uk/tools-and-labs/living-lab

Key elements:

  • It allows innovators to design and test products, services and business models with real people in over 500 digitally connected inhabited smart homes around the United Kingdom with a variety of tenures, property types and installed equipment.
  • It provides independent validation by the Energy Systems Catapult, drawing on consumer insight, data analysis and business model experts.
  • It helps technology developers to understand the needs of users and market requirements for commercialisation of a clean energy product or service.

Summary of the types of support provided or enabled by the policy initiative

Type of support

Financial

Infrastructure

Services

Networking

-

Indirect: independent validation of real-world performance in homes

Indirect: access to Energy Systems Catapult technical support, consumer data and analysis, market research, user experience, and service design

Indirect: provides connections to other innovators working on similar challenges


The UK government established Energy Systems Catapult in 2013 as an independent not-for-profit entity that is publicly funded to accelerate the transformation of the United Kingdom’s energy system and help UK businesses and consumers to capture the associated economic opportunities. Energy Systems is one of nine Catapults, with others focusing on high-value manufacturing, offshore renewable energy, medicines discovery and other topics. The first seven of these were launched in 2010. The government intends for the Catapults’ innovation activities to be funded one-third from a core grant from the government via Innovate UK, one-third from industry partners, and one-third from collaborative R&D funds bid for by consortiums involving Catapults.

Living Lab was created in 2017 to provide a safe and affordable real-world test environment of digitally connected homes. Energy Systems Catapult designed the facility to enable small and large businesses to rapidly design, market-test and launch their smart energy innovations with real people in their own homes in real time. It also provides a national capability to test and demonstrate new market arrangement, policies and regulations with real consumers. Anticipated outcomes include innovative ways to retrofit homes for net zero emissions objectives, making homes warmer, lowering energy bills and improving health outcomes.

Living Lab has a permanently open call for proposals. Technology developers can make contact at any time to explore the possibility of using the Living Lab for tests. In addition, recipients of Energy Systems Catapult support under its Energy Launchpad calls for proposals can access the Living Lab if this is determined to be appropriate. One focused call for proposals was run in winter 2019/20 to select three small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) with new approaches to building retrofit measures that could be installed quickly in participating households. In that case, Energy Systems Catapult covered around 80% of project costs.

N/A

Living Lab is a means through which Energy Systems Catapult provides start-ups with access to a real-world test environment for trialling new products, services and business models. Energy Systems Catapult recruits households on an ongoing basis and uses standardised agreements to facilitate safe working principles, consistent testing conditions and access to data. In return, households are paid by Energy Systems Catapult for their participation in tests, with the amount varying depending on the time commitment for each project. In this way, the costs of initial customer acquisition are dramatically reduced for technology developers. A variety of standard data points are collected from each participating household, including energy consumption, air temperature, relative humidity and local weather. In 2021, electric vehicle charging was integrated into the suite of equipment and behaviours of some Living Lab households. The cloud-based data platform was upgraded in 2020 to be open and technology-agnostic.

Energy Systems Catapult supports recipients with technical expertise to conduct their Living Lab trial. This includes access to historic data, data scientists and artificial intelligence algorithms. Historical data are available via the USMART platform. Learnings and data from Living Lab homes are shared in webinars and insight papers published by Energy Systems Catapult.

Business services are also available to recipients, including energy market research, user experience, service design and trial design.

In addition, virtual Meet the Experts sessions are open to SMEs regardless of whether they are recipients of Living Lab support. These sessions can be tailored to the interests of the SMEs.

Energy Systems Catapult helps recipients of Living Lab make connections with potential partners with which they could build consortiums and projects to apply for government funding.

Energy Systems Catapult evaluates the impact of the Living Lab as part of its relationship with Innovate UK. It also monitors the impact on businesses of Living Lab support to help identify the value of the facility and the opportunities for improvement. For reasons of commercial sensitivity, these evaluations are not publicly available.


In 2021, Energy Systems Catapult published a report on lessons from the Living Lab. This mostly focused on a 2017‑2018 field trial working with 108 households to learn more about how people actually use heat. It generated insights that will be used to inform future trial design.

In collaboration with the Power Networks Demonstration Centre at the University of Strathclyde, Living Lab is being expanded to explore the impact of household preferences on energy networks. This initiative, called Whole Energy Systems Accelerator, is the world’s first example of a facility that can concurrently test the interaction between activity in homes and energy networks – the physics, human behaviour, technology and market – in real time and across different future energy system and market scenarios.

Energy Systems Catapult highlights AirEx Technologies as an example of success. The technology is a smart ventilation control using an intelligent air brick. Since receiving Living Lab support, the company has received more investment, gotten regulatory acceptance (including approval by UK energy regulator Ofgem for the ECO 3 Scheme) and achieved a fivefold increase in turnover.

Amp X received support from Living Lab to test and refine the design of their autonomous, digital energy assistant ALICE. ALICE has the potential to reduce energy costs and carbon intensity for UK households by automating decisions about energy consumption in response to market signals.


This publication has been produced with the financial assistance of the European Union as part of the Clean Energy Transitions in Emerging Economies programme. This publication reflects the views of the International Energy Agency (IEA) Secretariat but does not necessarily reflect those of individual IEA member countries or the European Union (EU). Neither the IEA nor the EU make any representation of warranty, express or implied, in respect to the article's content (including its completeness or accuracy) and shall not be responsible for any use of, or reliance on, the publication.

The Clean Energy Transitions in Emerging Economies programme has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 952363.

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