There has long been a feeling in the U.K. that better management of electricity consumption will pay benefits both for consumers of all scales and for the security and sustainability of the electricity grid itself.

Over the years, various small-scale incentives have aimed at encouraging energy management, but in recent weeks the British government has upped the ante. Specifically, it has sought to pump-prime innovation in the technology of energy management, focusing on two key areas — energy storage and demand-side response (DSR) as a key platform in its industrial strategy.

The government has focused the brunt of investment initially on the energy storage side with the unveiling of a £246 million competition to encourage manufacturers to develop battery technology.

The initial phase of the competition called the Faraday Challenge along with the associated development of a Battery Institute to harness academic research, will home in on automotive battery development, where the need is judged to be greatest. But subsequent phases will encourage battery technology as a means of energy storage.

The second element, DSR, is addressed in a position paper the government has called "Smart Systems and Flexibility," which it describes as "a plan to make the U.K.'s energy system smarter" and which it says "will help reduce energy bills, balance demand on the grid and realize up to £40 billion of benefits" while enabling homes and businesses to better manage their electricity use.

The key element of this plan is that it will open up new markets by addressing regulatory barriers to electricity storage while driving down costs for consumers through better demand management. The government wants to make it easier for consumers to access smart technologies and in particular to develop the market for "smart appliances."

Of course, these developments offer great potential for developers of what we might term "energy sector technology," but there is also no small sense of excitement in the HVAC sector as to how it can become involved. It seems clear that it can play a key role in both DSR and in energy storage in its widest terms.

Taking technology that already exists, the former category encompasses the wide spectrum of "smart" HVAC technology, ranging from intelligent thermostats to internet-enabled boilers, refrigerators and chillers and smart hot water storage. There are already some interesting partnerships ongoing between energy providers and suppliers of smart storage heaters and "smart radiators," for instance.

But the field of DSR also includes promising technologies in load shedding and load shifting, where the high electricity draw of refrigeration systems can be called into play.

As well as refrigeration, chiller systems are also being investigated for their ability to store "coolth" at times of peak energy consumption and then to reuse the cool energy at times of lower demand.

Readers in the U.S. will be also be familiar with the common load-shifting principle of ice banking, but this hasn't yet really been exploited in Europe, so again this offers interesting territory for further research.

And let's not forget that there is also plenty of scope for renewable energy systems such as solar in the form of lithium ion battery technology enabling users, both large and small, domestic and commercial, to store energy for later use.

That is just the proprietary technology there are also a range of research projects seeking to further explore the wider reaches of energy storage. One such is the EC-funded Cryohub project, which is seeking to harness the high energy use of industrial cold stores and to store the cool energy using cryogenic techniques, before supplying it back to the grid.

These are rapidly-changing times for those involved in energy technology, and the HVAC industry needs to ensure that it plays its part in the revolution.