Flexibility & Resilience
Power generation from renewable sources is essential if the UK is to decarbonise. However, the variability of solar and wind resources and the energy demanded by our buildings, places strain on the energy system. Energy storage and local generation, together with innovative and smart controls, enables real-time management of the interaction between supply and demand. Our research has examined ways of assuring the smooth delivery of affordable heat and power to our cities and communities.
An ability to predict the likely electricity loads of dwellings is central to the design of local supply, storage and generation systems. Advanced data analysis and a new primary data set has shown that previous models have underestimated in the between-month variations in electricity demand, load factor and peak load. The improved predictive ability will enhance the accuracy of our energy system models.
Local electricity demands can be smoothed by demand side management, for example, turning off the energy-hungry machines that heat and cool large buildings. But can occupant comfort be retained if heating or cooling is curtailed, and for how long? Complex modelling, verified by field measurement, is quantifying the inherent energy flexibility offered by buildings of different type. Aggregating the flexibility of many buildings could avoid the need for expensive battery storage.
Heat pumps operating with green electricity are seen as one route to decarbonating home heating. However, the widespread deployment of heat pumps could place a massive and unmanageable additional load on the UK electricity supply system. Research, using the largest available data set of monitored heat pump performance, has shown that previous estimates overestimated the additional national electricity load. The supply-side costs of large-scale heat pump deployment may therefore be less than previously thought.
To explore a future in which the supply and demand for heat and power interact, we currently rely on measured energy demands, the performance characteristics of storage technologies and models. As new low-energy communities emerge our research will be strengthened by empirical data on the actual performance of these new energy systems.
Technology and System Performance
Buildings and the people in them account for 46% of all UK energy use and 72% of end-use CO2 emissions. Any future, low-carbon energy system is cheaper and less complex if energy demand is reduced. Meeting our carbon reduction targets is impossible unless buildings convert to clean energy for heating and cooling. Our research has examined how we design, build, and operate buildings so they use less energy, more efficiently and with less pollution.
Off-site construction is seen as one route to lower cost, higher quality and more energy efficient buildings. But replacing traditional construction with factory produced alternatives may simply create new, unforeseen problems. Site surveys and monitoring has measured the energy demands and environmental conditions in low and medium rise modular apartment buildings.
The energy demand of buildings is often much greater than predicted; the so called performance gap. New dwellings may not achieve the CO2 limits imposed by the building regulations and refurbishments underperform. Research which combines field measurement, full scale experimentation and modelling is developing ways of measuring the actual heat loss of UK dwellings.
Energy management is essential to reduce unnecessary waste. The large and complex energy systems in industrial buildings harbour numerous energy vampires, malfunctioning components and ineffective controls. New, self-diagnosing building management systems are being developed which can detect faults and direct facilities managers to the source of the problem.
Our ability to address these matters is enabled by our ability to employ a diverse range of research techniques: field trials, monitoring, full-scale experimentation and modelling. The research is enabled by funding from central government, stakeholder partners and the UK research councils.
Comfort, Health & Well-Being
We spend over 80% of our lives indoors so the quality of the indoor environment is crucial to our comfort, health and well-being. Our buildings need heating, cooling, ventilation lighting and power, but we must provide these effectively and efficiently, to achieve the conditions wanted by all members of society. Our research projects have addressed this challenge.
As our cities grow, as the climate warms and as our buildings become more energy efficient, summertime overheating in our homes is increasing. Our research has identified the problem, asked if we can reliably predict which homes will overheat and which won’t, and contributed to new guidelines and standards.
Smart heating controls can save energy by heating individual rooms to the correct temperature only when occupied. But how much energy can be saved, is thermal comfort provided and how easy are these controls to use? Our modelling, experiments and field trials have examined these issues.
Ventilation of school classrooms is essential to prevent the build-up of CO2 which hinders students’ ability to think and learn. Our research has examined the design of windows and innovative ventilation systems to assure an adequate, well-distributed supply of fresh air.
Fuel poverty, caused by low incomes and rising fuel prices, leads to cold, mouldy and unhealth housing. Improvements to the energy efficiency of homes enables the most vulnerable in society to heat their homes adequately. But how do we effectively insulate old homes without precipitating new, unintended, consequences?
Many of these problems lie at the intersection of professional and academic disciplines, but our multi-disciplinary research teams are uniquely capable of bringing new perspectives and insights.