Automated & flexible heat pump use

HeatFlex is a multi-year field trial that controls heat pumps remotely whilst maintaining household comfort.


Decentralised energy systems of the future will be underpinned by low carbon technologies, including heat pumps in countries with colder climates. Their intelligent use is critical to supporting the grid during times of strain.

Heat pumps are a relatively nascent technology in the UK, but ownership rates are growing. The evidence base for how consumers interact with heat pumps is limited; this field trial is designed to identify an acceptable approach to their remote control that maintains household comfort levels. We are gathering behavioural insights regarding what ‘good’ automation of heat pumps looks like, in order to assess the amount of flexibility we can expect from them in the future - allowing for the design of efficient and consumer-centric future energy systems.

Field trial: pilot

In winter 2022-23, we partnered with innovation agency Nesta, and piloted a research method where we remotely controlled households’ heat pumps via a smart thermostat, to see if we can reduce or shift electricity demand whilst maintaining a comfortable temperature in participants’ homes. We found indicative evidence that we were able to move electricity consumption to different points in the day, with 90% of participants reporting that the automation of their heating was acceptable.

Field trial: next phase

We have launched our trial and have conducted multiple events with a bigger pool of participants. We’ve started to collect data for this mixed methods randomised controlled trial from smart meters and heat pump monitors. This will allow us to better understand:

  • The magnitude of flexibility that our intervention delivered, comparing smart meter data and heat pump consumption before, during and after HeatFlex events.
  • Consumer willingness to accept the automation of heat pumps, when these are remotely controlled during certain times of the day.

The results of this field trial will be shared in late 2024, forming part of a wider academic paper centred on the intelligent use of low carbon technologies in hot and cold climates around the world.

Pilot findings