Social housing green energy schemes lead way on sector decarbonisation efforts

What do the pioneering ReFLEX Orkney project, the unique ‘Solopower’ solution, and the Government’s Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund Demonstrator all have in common? They are either led by or partnering with one innovative energy services company, SMS plc, which is on a mission to support housing organisations with long-term sustainability and fuel poverty targets.

The intelligent application of distributed green energy technologies – in tandem with new financing solutions that aim to make mass rollout across UK homes realistically deliverable and widely affordable – has potential not only to help Britain fully decarbonise, but also dramatically reduce rates of fuel poverty in the process.

Nowhere is this potential more readily realisable than within the country’s social housing sector. Today, local authorities and housing associations are involved in some of the country’s most promising local energy projects, working alongside innovative private sector partners to demonstrate viable routes to net-zero emissions in cost-effective ways.

Take ReFLEX Orkney: a pioneering scheme underway in the Scottish island community. The ReFLEX Orkney project, which is backed by UK Research & Innovation (UKRI) and being delivered by a consortium of energy innovators in partnership with Orkney Islands Council, aims to demonstrate the ‘integrated energy system of the future’ and decarbonise the archipelago by 2030 using flexible, distributed, clean technologies that link locally-generated renewable electricity with the islands’ energy demand.

SMS plc, one of the innovators and funders behind the scheme, has used its experience delivering the project (namely through developing its proprietary FlexiGrid™ platform that remotely manages distributed energy resources installed in homes across the islands) to begin partnering with the wider UK social housing market. In short, SMS’s Solopower solution takes two of the key technologies used in Orkney – solar PV and behind-the-meter battery storage – and installs and operates them intelligently in order to help landlords reduce carbon emissions and fuel poverty across their housing portfolio.

Through this fully-financed, turnkey service, the objective is to significantly upgrade the energy performance of social accommodation at zero upfront cost. With proven savings from trial projects having successfully demonstrated how Solopower can decarbonise housing electricity by up to 90% per home and lower tenant electricity bills by up to 25% (achieving approximately £200 in savings per year), innovative energy solutions like these could offer UK housing organisations a verified gamechanger in supporting their long-term sustainability ambitions.

With much interest in Solopower since the launch in March 2021 – as was reported by Housing Association Magazine –  SMS is now already contracted to operate battery storage systems across 700 houses with a number of local authorities in Scotland. It is also leveraging its partnerships to drive yet more innovation that is seeing other green technologies added to the energy-saving concept.

Supported by the Government’s newly launched Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund Demonstrator, SMS in May announced a new project in partnership with Aberdeen City Council to deliver a programme of fabric upgrades and renewable energy technologies across 100 council homes. Building on what is already offered to social landlords through Solopower in terms of the installation and smart operation of solar panels and batteries, SMS is working with Aberdeen City Council and other delivery partners to add heat pumps and thermal-imaging technology to the design and delivery of the home energy system.

As with Solopower, SMS is financing the rollout of the assets at no upfront cost to the landlord or tenants and will intelligently operate the solar and battery system to decarbonise power supply. However, the key difference being that as part of this project’s fabric-first, whole-home approach, each property will be surveyed using thermal imaging technology to identify where fabric improvements are required to reduce space heating demand. Then, through retrofitting the homes and installing heat pumps, the objective is also to decarbonise heat supply alongside electricity, as well as making potential further significant gains in bringing down tenant energy costs.

Commenting on the project, SMS’s Head of New Energy Systems, Sean Keating, said: “The UK today faces the enormous challenge of developing intelligent, scalable models that can decarbonise the housing stock in ways that are both commercially viable and affordable for residents. SMS’s financing ability and innovative technology-led solution looks to develop a business model that encourages collaborative public and private sector investment on this front.

“Above all, the project is about creating a more sustainable future: one that ensures affordable comfort in our homes, reduces fuel poverty, creates jobs, and ultimately protects our environment amidst climate change.”

If you are interested in SMS’s Solopower solution, available exclusively for social housing landlords, visit the website, where you can read more information including a downloadable brochure and FAQs. You can contact the Solopower team directly at