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Zero carbon, zero bills

Octopus Energy’s Becky Boulton on the world-first partnership to build zero-emission homes – with zero energy bills
Installing a solar roof on an lke ZERO home

This article first appeared in our Organic September issue of My Green Pod Magazine, published on 14 September 2022. Click here to subscribe to our digital edition and get each issue delivered straight to your inbox

Year 2050, according to policymakers, will mark one of the most pivotal moments in history: the eradication of all carbon emissions from the UK economy.

We can’t change the system overnight; with fossil fuels still playing such a key part in powering our homes and workplaces, a lot needs to happen to get us there.

Today Net Zero can feel more like a futuristic concept than a near-term reality, with many left wondering what this monumental shift could possibly look like to the average person and, most importantly, how we might get there.

A shared determination to find these answers is what drove Octopus Energy, ilke Homes and Gresham House to forge a pioneering, world-first partnership to create homes that have not just a zero-carbon footprint, but zero energy bills to pay, too.

Thanks to the innovation of renewable energy, A.I. and modern building technologies, they have used their shared experience in housing and renewable technologies to build the first zero-bill homes in Essex, with many more to come across the country.

The two initial houses – funded by Gresham House, a sustainable investment-focused asset manager – come equipped with an air-source heat pump, solar panels and battery storage, meaning they are powered by technology that is completely independent of gas and oil.

These low-carbon technologies combine to provide free, clean energy round the clock, with Octopus Energy providing a bespoke ‘Zero Bills’ smart tariff, using advancements in flexibility to help the system work perfectly in tandem.

This setup will allow residents to use power from their own solar panels on sunny days; any surplus solar they sell will offset the cost of energy imported from the grid when it’s cloudy – guaranteeing free energy bills all year round.

This is the magic of renewable energy: once the infrastructure is paid for, clean energy is abundant and completely cost free.

When outdated carbon-emitting energy systems are taken out of the picture, it only makes sense that costly bills will come down, too.

Precision-engineered along production lines, two factory-built homes are initially being installed on a site in Stanford-le-Hope, Essex by ilke Homes, in partnership with Gresham House.

To ensure less heat escapes in colder months and that energy use is kept to a minimum, they are incredibly well insulated – reinforced with high-performance building fabric and materials that make them super efficient and cosy at the same time.

A day in a home of the future

Picture this: it’s mid-summer, the days are glorious and the solar panels have been saturated with sunshine – more than enough to charge your battery and power your home.

Any excess green energy that’s generated is exported back to the grid, compensating for the extra electricity you will use in the winter.

The tech behind your bespoke tariff works in unison with the devices in your home, to ensure that any power generated is always used where it’s needed most – whether that means using it, storing it or supporting the National Grid or your local network operator to keep the power flowing.

This 100% clean energy contributes to making the grid greener for everyone, thereby reducing the need to burn fossil fuels. 

Fast-forward to December. You wake up on a chilly winter morning, stretch your legs and, despite the icy rain falling outside, the house is already toasty.

The heat pump has been syphoning energy from the air since the early hours of the morning, gently heating up your home.

The sun may not be shining today, but the solar panels have generated enough power to fill your home battery.

If the sun doesn’t show its face again when the battery runs low, your bespoke Octopus tariff will ensure that any renewable energy you need to use from the grid is completely free of charge.

A real-world solution

To most, this probably sounds a little too good – and, more importantly, too expensive – to be true. But with demand for technologies like heat pumps and solar panels increasing, Octopus is finding financial solutions to make these devices realistic alternatives for powering the home.

Companies like ilke Homes and Zedpod have started to explore accessibility by building zero-carbon homes as social housing and as on-site additional care accommodation for the NHS.

In the midst of a cost-of-living crisis, it’s clear that ‘Zero Carbon, Zero Bills’ could be an ideal solution for those struggling the most – something Octopus Energy is currently working hard to explore. 

The clean heating revolution

In recent years, the mission at Octopus has been to go beyond supplying green energy and target the biggest carbon culprits within our existing homes.

Heating represents 31% of a home’s carbon footprint, so making air-source heat pumps an affordable alternative will make home decarbonisation far more accessible.

Thanks to its cost-reduction programme and the government’s Boiler Upgrade Scheme, it’s now possible to offer heat pumps at a similar cost to a gas boiler for most houses​​.

While this won’t mean free bills for the average home, heat pumps are extremely efficient. They use very little electricity to take natural, low-level heat from the air outside and condense it to generate significantly more heat in your home.

A heat pump can turn 1kWh electricity into up to 4kWh of heat – four times more than even the most efficient gas, electric or oil boilers. This equates to a quarter of the carbon emissions – a figure that will fall to zero when the grid goes 100% green.

Affordable heat pumps, alongside Octopus Energy’s other innovations, are helping to pave the way towards a net-zero reality, with ZERO homes demonstrating what emission-free households could look like.

‘This breakthrough partnership debunks a long-standing myth – that cleaner energy will mean higher bills for consumers’, said Greg Jackson, founder of Octopus Energy. ‘Instead, people living in these homes won’t be paying for energy at all. This is yet another demonstration that clean energy is cheap energy, and the best answer to the fossil fuel crisis is accelerating the transition to renewables.’

Time to move in

It’s still early days for ilke ZERO, which launched in July 2021, but the aim is to deliver thousands of operational zero-carbon homes per year for major investors, housing associations and councils across the UK.

The homes have already been trialled in London, Newcastle, Gateshead, Newark and Sunderland, and are now ready to be rolled out en masse.

The first homes will be ready for their new owners this summer, and the other houses on the Hope Green site will be available to buy through SO Resi. 

The end goal of this exciting partnership is for every new home in the UK to eventually be built to the Zero Carbon, Zero Bills spec.

As this incredible technology becomes cheaper and more accessible, the responsibility falls on innovators like Octopus Energy and ilke Homes to demonstrate to both the government and developers how feasible and effective this option truly is.

They are providing real-life solutions that could change the way we live and help to make Net Zero a reality.

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