Independent energy consultant Andris Bankovskis looked at work carried out by academics at the University of Swansea’s Specific Innovation and Knowledge Centre to develop an energy positive classroom on campus.
The classroom, which was opened last year, has an integrated solar roof, battery storage and solar-heat collection on the south-facing walls.
The system used to build the classroom has generated more energy than it has consumed since it was switched on.
The active classroom concept has now been taken one step further for the Active Homes Neath social housing project, which has been developed by the Pobl Group, one of the largest housing associations in Wales.
The association’s development director (west), Jonathan Hughes, said the plan is to build 16 new homes for rent, using this ‘buildings as power stations’ approach on the site of the former residential care home, near Neath town centre.
Mr Hughes said energy generation will be embedded ‘within the fabric of the homes’.
He added the homes will look like ‘any other house we would build’, but will also include solar roofs, shared battery storage and systems to capture and recycle waste heat.
Like the active classroom model, water heating will come from a solar heat collector on the south facing walls of the houses.
‘It’s a very self-sufficient model,’ said Mr Hughes. ‘The house is generating electricity. It’s also using that energy and uploading any surplus into the battery pack.
‘If we can tackle one of the biggest bills that comes in through the letterbox, this will go a long way to alleviate fuel poverty.’
Construction work is expected to start in spring 2018, with residents scheduled to move in the following year. Mr Hughes said although the Neath project is just a pilot scheme, there is potential for the model to be rolled out in future developments.
‘It’s all part of that package of measures to increase the supply of affordable of housing in Wales.
‘What we see in Wales and elsewhere is while we have achieved success in providing new homes through tried and tested construction methods, in order to address the desperate housing need, we need a step change to provide the quality and the quantity of homes that are needed by people. This technology will take it to another level.’
The chief executive of the Specific Innovation and Knowledge Centre in Swansea, Kevin Bygate, said that if a million homes were built in the UK using this model it could save three gigawatts of electricity capacity on the national grid, the equivalent of a large power station.
Mr Bygate said that the integrated building designs would also cut average fuel bills by £600 a year. ‘Active Homes Neath has been designed under a standard design-and-build contract, which means it can be replicated at scale.
‘These are unashamedly normal homes for everyday use and have been designed using commercially available materials. They are not one-offs, which cannot be replicated,’ he said.
‘The technologies are all there because they make long-term economic sense, not just because we want to stick solar PV on.
‘If you look at the roof of the active classroom and the one which will be used for Active Homes Neath, it’s a metal standing photovoltaic roof. The cells are encapsulated into the roof, which is built by roofers in the normal way.
‘Our philosophy is to integrate these systems into the parent materials, so you are getting the installation part for free.’
Mr Bygate added the housing association and social landlord sectors are being ‘proactive’ about smart energy systems, like this, and the benefits they can bring.
‘The technology exists to do this now. What we now need is the collective will of government, industry and consumers to make this happen at scale.
‘There’s a strong regional theme to this,’ added Mr Bygate. ‘People need to see these systems in their own communities, whether that’s in Northern Ireland or Scotland. I would like to see them in key regional economic clusters around the country.’
Nina Skorupska, chief executive of the Renewable Energy Association, described said the Active Homes Neath project as a ‘good example of the bold innovation and big-thinking taking place’ in the renewable energy sector.
‘Together, these technologies create significant opportunities to speedily address pressures on both our housing and energy systems in one go,’ she added.