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Storage heaters - yesterday’s technology but are they tomorrow’s?

Posted by on in Heat 2014
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I grew up before energy efficiency was discovered - or rather it just wasn't necessary.  We had one heated room and that was it. The rest of the house was cold and so were we. Insulation would have been pointless as it was nearly as cold inside as it was outside. In fact it often felt colder.  On a sunny morning it wasn’t unusual for me to open my bedroom window to let the warm(er) air in.

That all changed with Economy 7. Introduced in the 1970s to allow electricity to compete with North Sea gas it offered the prospects of ending winter misery with the installation of a new technology called storage heaters. It was very simple; you put half priced electricity in at night and somehow it came out during the day. I can remember waking up to warm bliss. Wearing my coat indoors was no longer necessary and I could eat my breakfast without gloves. It was great. But arriving home in the evening I was disappointed to find the house cold again. Not as cold as it used to be but not much better. A little later we discovered another drawback: cost. The electricity may have been half priced but it still cost a lot.

Talk to others with experience of storage heaters and you’ll get similar tales and perhaps that is why there isn't much enthusiasm for them. There are still over 6 million storage heaters and I would expect for many they are probably not the best heating solution. But does that mean that storage heaters have no future? I am not so sure.

Modern storage heaters are said to be more efficient and “smarter”. With a decarbonized grid they offer a low carbon heating solution along with demand side management potential, thereby providing a major source of much needed flexibility.   In terms of capital costs, they are a lot lower than alternatives such as heat pumps but also the impact on upstream infrastructure is substantially less as  they can avoid peak demand. Running costs are likely to be higher due to their lower efficiency but for well insulated households with low heat demand they could be an attractive option suitable for large scale deployment.

I’m pleased to see that we have one session in the conference where storage heaters are discussed. Let’s put any prejudices we have aside as we might be surprised with what they can offer.

Robert Sansom is a Researcher at Imperial College London funded by UK Energy Research Centre.

Robert Sansom has nearly 30 years’ experience in the UK electricity industry.  This includes power station operations and maintenance, engineering consultancy, networks (transmission and distribution), energy strategy, power project development, energy procurement and risk management.  In November 2009 he left EDF Energy and commenced a PhD at Imperial College, London University, researching how the UK can decarbonise low grade heat for space and water heating.


  • Guest
    Paul Thursday, 21 November 2013

    Interestingly SAP 2012 see's the recognition of 'high heat retention' storage heaters which are classed as storage heaters with not less than 45% heat retention according to BS EN 60531. They also include 'smart' controls such as monitoring external and room temperatures to estimate the next days heat demand periods. These controls are said to make them much more responsive than traditional storage heaters. The fact they're being recognised in SAP suggests their increase in popularity (or maybe more accurately an increase in pressure from manufacturers for these systems to be recognised?).

  • Guest
    william orchard Tuesday, 26 November 2013

    Robert agree storage heaters valuable for storing heat. Suggest even better from exergy point of view if the electricity is used to upgrade heat with electric heat pumps and then store the hot water.
    Uncertain whether low cost tariffs at night will prevail with large scale nuclear or CCGT CHP.
    Part load operation at night with CHP is met by reducing electricity output and producing heat from the CHP virtual heat pump with COP greater than ten so vey low cost heat and lots of it.
    Original Reason for off peak tariff was due to the costs of electricity increasing at night with reduced electrical output from plant at night and costs of taking plant off the system and putting them back on again. This reason vanishes with large scale CHP.
    Off peak invented by Jed West at electricity council I think.

  • Guest
    la Wednesday, 02 September 2015

    I have a storage heater in my flat and I am cold ALL of the time and yet also seem to be paying a lot for the privilege. This is why the consumer does not like storage heaters. Maybe you could discuss that?

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Guest Sunday, 10 July 2016