Robert SansomI grew up before energy efficiency was discovered – or rather when 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 prospect 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 another drawback was discovered: 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 and they are rarely discussed. 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.

So let’s put any prejudices we have aside and treat storage heaters seriously. We might be surprised with what they can offer.

This article first appeared on the Heat Conference website.

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