The Active Building Centre Research Programme (ABC-RP), led by Swansea University and working with consortium partners Loughborough University, University of Sheffield and Mixergy Ltd, has secured UK Government funding for a preliminary feasibility study to investigate the potential benefits of longer duration thermal energy storage in supporting the UK’s transition to net zero.
In 2015 the United Nations announced its 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development within which 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SGDs) are identified. This agenda, agreed by all member states, reflects an overarching ambition for “peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future”. The agenda highlights that across the globe, while our specific contexts may differ, we all share the same foundational needs and that we are interconnected in multiple ways.
The 6th Carbon Budget, released in December 2020, sets out national decarbonisation pathways to 2050 across all sectors. Following these pathways, we can expect an installation rate of about 415,000 heat pumps per year by 2025, rising to over 1 million installations per year by 2030. Electrification of space heating is gathering pace, and with it, intelligent energy management is moving from being beneficial to being necessary to ensure the resilience of the power grid.
These are, or at least should be, commonly made arguments now; buildings account for around 20% of UK carbon emissions and an estimated 80% of the homes which we will live in 2050 have already been built. The task of getting to net zero is a challenging one, but a new tool, developed collaboratively, aims to help individual and organisational property owners to better understand and improve the energy efficiency of their homes.
The buildings in which we live must play a critical role in UK decarbonisation, but they are also homes. This means they different meanings and value to different people which can evolve over time. Our Living Well in Low Carbon Homes team is unearthing new insights and evidence to support the transformation of the UK building stock as we progress towards net zero.
Across our research programme, the teams are looking for increasing amounts of monitored building performance data. But what is this monitored data and why do we want it? Let’s take a look at this in a bit more detail, and why it is important in enabling the UK’s transition to net zero.
Home; it is a word that has many meanings for us. It is a physical space where we live, it is also where we enact our lives, where we spend time with family and friends and a place where we can express ourselves in the way we decorate and the items we put in our homes.
Having a warm comfortable home is central to our health and wellbeing. Low and zero carbon homes, whether new builds or retrofitted, may bring even greater health, wellbeing, and financial benefits to occupants. Yet, creating low carbon homes may also have wider benefits to the local community, economy, and infrastructure. The Healthy Living in Low Carbon homes team is exploring these wider societal impacts.
Active and low carbon buildings can create energy flexibility, reduce emissions, and decrease energy bills. Yet there is an important factor that should be considered; to achieve net zero carbon, we must reduce emissions and be more energy efficient without having a negative impact on the occupants’ comfort. So, how can we achieve our targets in energy management and control of buildings while respecting occupants’ comfort?
Do you know how much electricity your household uses? A community in Nottingham is being provided with monthly energy reports for their electricity consumption. The reports offer an opportunity for home occupants to increase awareness about their consumption, identify ways to reduce it, and discover ways to implement changes to optimise energy expenditure.
Future buildings will be highly insulated and heated with renewable energy. The systems will be fully integrated, connected to the grid and operate to continuously optimise for occupant comfort wile minimising emissions… but who’s going to pay for them in the long run?
The Living Well in Low Carbon Homes research team have been exploring the views and experiences of people due to move to Parc Eirin, an innovative low carbon housing estate in South Wales. Speaking to people in the weeks before they move in, our interview discussions have covered current living situations and expectations for their future lives at Parc Eirin.
Several regulations and standards have been developed worldwide in order to deal with the energy performance of buildings. But do these push things forward enough to make sure we will hit our national net zero target by 2050? According to industry experts, the answer is “no” and the lack of clarity is hindering our transition to a net zero future.
In 2019, the UK became one of the first advanced economies to pass legislation to target net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. However, the country is projected to just meet its fourth and fifth carbon reduction targets due largely to the interruption caused by the global COVID-19 pandemic. So, if we are truly going to achieve net zero, what needs to happen?
Active buildings require data. “Things”, such as those producing renewable energy, measuring energy flow or monitoring environmental conditions, must be connected to the Internet to provide the information needed to support the intelligent integration of the buildings into the wider energy infrastructure; they form part of the Internet-of-Things (IoT).
Real life is uncertain, yet, despite everyone’s best efforts, it is impossible to remove the effects of uncertainty from our daily lives. Or is it? Well, if we are talking about the operation of residential buildings, we can. The team at Imperial College London are developing robust control strategies that will help to achieve low emissions goals and optimal comfort, while accounting for uncertainty.
Digitals twins have been widely used by industry for many decades. Nevertheless, their use in the built environment is relatively recent, but growing inline with the decarbonisation agenda. Literature to date has evidenced the role of digital twins in promoting energy improvements, but how can they be implemented more widely to benefit net-zero in the sector?
As we try to progress towards net-zero, there is something that stands out rather clearly: buildings matter. Their current energy and carbon footprint are tremendous, yet they have such a potential to become a positive force for change that there can be no net-zero by 2050 without their decarbonisation. How could we then support delivering positive impact?
Recent advancements in low-cost sensing technologies have proliferated the Internet of Things. IoT, as it is known, provides connectivity to any device via Internet Protocol, enabling more efficient monitoring and control of any medium, including active buildings. So how can we leverage these networks to improve building performance?
Residential buildings account for about a quarter of the global energy use. With the growing electrification of the heating and transport sector, their consumption is likely to increase further and new approaches to the design and specification of buildings will be needed to deliver optimal performance.
As building performance data becomes more pervasive, there are opportunities to improve how we design the net-zero carbon buildings of the future. At Loughborough University, we are utilising real-world data to create a new model that will improve how buildings and, more importantly, communities of buildings, can be designed.
A new Welsh Government initiative backed by almost £20m has been launched to transform the quality and sustainability of social housing in Wales and boost the green economic recovery. The Optimised Retrofit Programme (ORP) is funding a suite of smart energy efficiency measures that will help Wales move towards a net-zero carbon economy.
There is a growing number of energy simulation tools to support the increasing demand for energy efficient buildings. As an energy analyst, the challenge is knowing which is the most appropriate for a given application. As part of our research activities are, we are comparing the performance of two of the most widely used tools.
As the Covid pandemic is having a stronghold on our daily lives, the battle against climate change continues. The notion of ‘divide and manage’ can also be applied to the energy setting of our buildings. After all, over 40% of energy is consumed in them.
How can we effectively decarbonise the way in which we heat buildings without spending a fortune on upgrading the power grid? As part of the Active Building Centre Research Programme, the team at Imperial College London are devising new and innovative approaches to overcome this challenge.
Covid-19 has created barriers across the user research industry, but it has also been the catalyst for new, innovative approaches and helped to bring forward much needed investment in key areas. For Our Healthy Living in Low Carbon Homes Team, this has created challenges and opportunities alike.
Bringing stakeholders from across industry, government and academia to understand the potential of Heating as a Service (HaaS) as an energy delivery model. The “Heat as a Service: Understanding evidence needs and research gaps” project aimed to explore the evidence needs of key stakeholders around the impacts of, and barriers to, offering heat as a service.
As the UK’s built environment evolves, could a new building code that can standardise the design and development of Active Buildings accelerate their impact on carbon reduction targets? Our Active Building Code aims to give an answer, providing guidance on shaping the next generation of buildings.
Smart building controls will enable greater power grid flexibility but the focus now needs to be on how we transition these powerful concepts into a deployable reality. The benefits have been reported for quite a while now. Smart control can enable buildings to act as providers of flexible services to the wider power grid, while improving the occupant’s thermal comfort.
Our Healthy Living in Low Carbon Homes Team has established a Healthy Ageing expert panel who will be crucial to our research here at Swansea University. The panel will actively engage members of the public throughout the project to ensure our work improves the likelihood of project success and technological adoption. Here is some initial feedback from our first session with them.
To address the availability issues surrounding residential heat pump profile data for energy systems researchers, our team has have developed the ‘Electrified Water And Space-heating Profiler’ tool. Being accessible to non-experts, running on open source software, and considering a large range of buildings, this tool could help transform how we analysis heat pump performance across the sector.
The current transition towards a low-carbon economy is making progress, with the UK’s 1st, 2nd and 3rd carbon budget targets having been met or projected to do so. However, meeting the 4th and 5th carbon budget targets is already far from plan and the milestones are unlikely to be met unless we can overcome the challenge of decarbonising the heating our existing domestic building stock.
Our researchers estimate the adoption of electric vehicles could benefit our energy network by upwards of £5 billion every year. With cars being largely stationary throughout their lives, having a car battery as a direct power source for a building is a huge opportunity that could support grid stability but how can we maximise this?
If we want to improve and decarbonise our built environment, we need to efficiently collect, analyse and leverage the data each building generates. Good, clean, comparable data is the key to optimising building performance, improving the use of resources, and making a significant stride toward predictive maintenance and control. The question is how do we standardise this?
Our socio-economic research requires developing and maintaining relationships with diverse stakeholder groups; a challenge we have embraced during a time of social distancing. By pivoting our research methods, we have maintained regular communication with our stakeholders, sharing concerns, exasperations and jovialities while touching base and keeping the project moving in the right direction.