Green light for renewable energy smart city in Oxford

An innovative Smart City pilot scheme in Oxford has been given the green light to proceed following lockdown delays. The recommencement of the smart renewable heating project with leading housing provider Stonewater, Kensa Contracting and Energy Superhub Oxford (ESO), marks a significant milestone for the construction and renewables industry, and a positive step towards a greener future for all.

Blackbird Leys

Rising to operational challenges in light of covid-19, drilling works have recommenced to prepare Stonewater residents in Blackbird Leys for a pioneering smart renewable heating system trial, which will provide a demonstration for how decarbonisation of heating using ground source heat pumps can interact with local energy systems to allow millions of homes to adopt a smart cities model.

The residents at Blackbird Leys will be the first in the UK to experience a smart heating system of this kind. The 60-homes trial will integrate individual Kensa Shoebox ground source heat pumps inside each property with Switchee heating controls, which will constantly sense, learn and respond to the inhabitant’s behaviour. Adding a further smart technology dimension to the running of the heat pump, Kensa’s heat optimisation software will take day-ahead forecast half hourly electricity costs, and automatically shift the operating times to enable the occupants to make savings from dynamic tariffs without having to change their behaviour.

The smart heating system is expected to save residents 3,520 tonnes of CO2 over their lifetime and cut their current night storage heating bills to levels lower than that of mains gas, all without adding strain to the UK’s electricity grid; a triple-challenge the renewables industry must overcome to ensure low carbon ground source heat pump technology is more widely adopted by society.

Dr Matthew Trewhella, Managing Director at Kensa Contracting explains:

“By introducing flexibility in how and when ground source heat pumps run, this trial will demonstrate how we can save residents even more money than typical ground source heat pump installations, even below the cost of gas, whilst modelling the impact heat pumps can have on balancing the electricity grid’s carbon and use/cost intensity.

Already low carbon and low cost, the ground source heat pump system at Blackbird Leys will save residents a further 25% in heating bills compared to a standard Kensa installation.”

Adam Masters, Sustainability Project Manager at Stonewater, said: “The latest IPPR report found that at least 12 million homes in England need to be fitted with heat pumps and new energy efficiency measures, if the UK is to meet its net zero targets by 2050, and lift thousands of households out of fuel poverty.

Through this project, we’re demonstrating how housing providers can not only work towards a more sustainable future, but an economical one for their customers too and we’re pleased that work at this particular housing scheme has been able to recommence.”

The 60-homes trial forms part of the Innovate UK funded ESO world-first smart city scheme in Oxford, which in addition to smart heating systems, features a high voltage transmission network shared by a hybrid battery and private wire network to support targeted, mass-scale, rapid electric vehicle charging. ESO’s trial for integrated power, heat and transport is hoped to eliminate 10,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions a year by 2021, the equivalent of taking 2,000 cars off the road.

Kensa hope its smart heating trial in Oxford will demonstrate the benefits of the electrification and decarbonisation of integrated heat, power and transport, critical if the UK is to deliver the recommended 300,000 heat pumps every year to meet the UK’s net zero carbon targets by 2050.

Dr Trewhella elaborates:

“An elegant advantage of this smart city heating approach is we can manage the running times of heat pumps on mass depending on the desired outcomes; in this project we have chosen to prioritise running costs. For greater carbon savings, you could switch the priority to carbon, or to grid management to stabilise voltages. All outcomes offer all benefits to some degree, but in different ratios depending on the priority. Here we are trying to fix the problem of electricity demand that is going to exist in five years’ time as the UK migrates to low-carbon electrical heating systems over fossil fuels and electric vehicles; this project is a great demonstrator of our future smart cities strategy.”

For those interested in following the progress of this landmark project, a blog documenting Kensa Contracting’s smart city pilot scheme with Stonewater is available to follow here. A virtual site tour of the Blackbird Leys scheme is to be hosted in October 2020. Interest in this event can be registered by emailing