Wales and West Utilities (WWU) and UK Power Networks (UKPN) have begun trialling a new hybrid heating system in seven homes in Wales, London and the south and east of England.

The system combines a gas boiler, an electric air-source heat pump and smart control software into a single unit that can be hung on the walls of customers’ homes in place of a conventional gas boiler and switch between using gas and electricity based on their relative cost and carbon emissions.

The HyCompact trial is a follow-on to the Freedom project previously undertaken by WWU in which hybrid heating systems, comprising a standalone gas boiler and an external air-source heat pump, were tested in 75 homes in Bridgend in South Wales.

Chris Clarke, energy strategy director for WWU, said: “We’re delighted to launch this pioneering project, which is a real test in homes of new smart hybrid heating systems. HyCompact builds on the success of the Freedom project, and considers views from energy customers, who told us they wanted the units to be smaller and more convenient.

“Decarbonising heat is one of the biggest challenges we face in the energy sector. As the recent Gas Goes Green report showed, repurposing our existing safe and reliable gas network to transport green gases like biomethane and hydrogen helps us get to net zero quicker, saving £13 billion a year compared to electrification alone. Smart hybrid systems like HyCompact can make that green gas go further, faster.”

“This trial will help us further understand the impact on gas and electricity networks of smart hybrid systems and gather more customer views on what living with a smart hybrid heating system is like.”

Ian Cameron, head of customer service for UKPN, said: “We are excited to partner with Wales and West Utilities on this cross-vector project. The challenge of achieving net zero is only going to be met through true whole-system trials and collaborations.

“Our goal is to enable the transition to net zero smoothly and at the lowest cost to our energy customers. This project will supply electricity networks with learning of the network impact and the best possible customer proposition for a hybrid transition.”

Picture: Artist’s impression of installed hybrid heating unit

The first of the hybrid heating units, which were developed by the Italian heating manufacturer SIME, were installed last week. The trial is expected to finish in July 2021.

The project is being supported with funding from the Network Innovation Allowance via both WWU and UKPN. PassivSystems, which developed the smart control software, is also contributing financially.