Proving the Business Case for the Internet of Things

Switch2 manages costs and increases energy control in community heating schemes

Steve Rogerson
May 3, 2016
Heat metering and billing company Switch2 has launched a three-in-one smart pay-as-you-go billing and energy management system for community heating schemes. Called Incontro, it helps developers and landlords manage costs, reduce debt risk and improve environmental performance, while making it simpler for residents to pay for their energy and control and monitor their energy usage.
The UK designed and manufactured technology takes smart metering to a different level. It is a multifunctional energy system that combines either prepayment or credit billing with monitoring household energy usage; simple to use multi-zone thermostat, time and temperature control; and an in-home display.
Incontro enables developers and landlords to comply with building regulations, new heat network regulations, and the Code for Sustainable Homes. It is also compatible with the CIBSE Heat Networks Code of Practice and Heat Trust scheme.
The technology builds on the success of the company’s G6 pay-as-you-go system, which is changing energy prepayment in more than 25,000 homes connected to district housing. Users include housing providers such as Hyde Housing, Gentoo, Notting Hill Housing and Sheffield City Council.
“Our intelligent technology makes pay-as-you go billing so easy, flexible and transparent that it is becoming the option of choice for residents,” said Ian Allan, head of R&D at Switch2. “For landlords and developers, pay-as-you-go billing dramatically reduces debt risk – helping to secure the income and improve cash flow for a viable community energy scheme. Residents benefit because they find it simple to monitor and control exactly what they spend and how much energy they use.”
Residents can top-up credit via smartphone, tablet or other web enabled device, as well as via phone, direct debit, Post Office or Pay Point. Automatic top-up options enable residents to make an automatic payment should their credit drop below an agreed level. There are also emergency credit facilities and other features to help residents who run into financial difficulties.
“Incontro is supplied with up to two discrete heating zone sensors,” said Allan. “It provides everything residents need to programme and control their heat by temperature or time, monitor their energy usage and carbon footprint, and take care of budgeting and payments without any hassle. If they forget to turn the heat off, or want to return to a warm house after a holiday, they have remote control via a mobile app.”
Switch2 remotely manages and monitors the Incontro system from its UK customer service centre, which provides complete billing, prepayment and administration services to more than 50,000 homes across 400 community energy and district heating schemes.
The slimline tablet-style Incontro unit measures 22 by 13cm and is said to be designed for stylish, aspirational living.
The touch screen has a large, clear colour display – providing a weather feed, account balances, meter readings, CO2 emissions performance, and current and historic cost and consumption histograms showing various time periods, from hourly to yearly. Landlords can also message residents via the system.
“In our experience, where unmetered community heating sites make the switch to smart metering, the savings can be as much as 50 per cent,” said Allan. “By putting residents in charge of their heating system and costs, as we are doing, the results are often amazing. Our current prepayment billing system is predicted to reduce annual bills for 6000 residents connected to Sheffield City Council’s heat network by a total of £1.4m.
Incontro can also monitor six other utilities, including water, and handle billing of electricity. It uses a GPRS and 3G modem with roaming SIM chip to operate via any mobile network, avoiding the need for complex and costly infrastructure. Diagnostics and system upgrades are made remotely to the system over the air, thereby reducing installation, servicing and maintenance costs. In addition, the technology platform and interface has been designed to accommodate future expansion.