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'Smart' house is a net positive energy contributor

19 July 2015

The Welsh School of Architecture has designed and built the UK's first purpose-built, low-cost energy smart house, capable of exporting more energy than it uses.

The SOLCER House (image courtesy of the Welsh School of Architecture

The house, designed by Professor Phil Jones and his team based at the Welsh School of Architecture, has been built as a prototype to meet tough new targets for zero carbon housing set by UK government.

Designed and constructed as part of the Wales Low Carbon Research Institute's (LCRI) SOLCER project, and supported by SPECIFIC at Swansea University, its novel design is believed to be the first to combine reduced energy demand, renewable energy supply and energy storage to create an energy positive house.

"The Welsh and UK Governments – and governments across the EU – have set targets for very low 'nearly zero' energy buildings by 2020, and zero carbon new housing can deliver this and more," says Professor Jones, who heads the SOLCER House project. "This means that as an academic community we have to rise to that challenge and come-up with innovative new ways to build houses of the future. Through this project we have risen to this challenge and used the latest design and technology to build the UK's first smart energy positive house."

Zero carbon energy performance involves a combination of reduced energy demand and renewable energy supply, using the electricity grid to import and export energy.

Electrical and thermal storage have also been used to allow energy generated at the house to be used directly by the occupiers.

The design of the SOLCER House is based on the 'Buildings as Power Stations' concept developed by the SPECIFIC Innovation and Knowledge Centre, and it uses a number of technologies and design approaches developed by the LCRI's Low Carbon Buildings Research Programme.

"Buildings that can generate, store and release their own renewable energy could be a game-changer," says Kevin Bygate, chief executive of SPECIFIC. "The SOLCER House is intentionally built with the best off-the-shelf, affordable technologies, so it proves what's possible even now – and there's plenty more technology in the pipeline."

In order to reduce the energy demand, the house was built with high levels of thermal insulation reducing air leakage. Its energy efficient design includes low carbon cement, structural insulated panels, external insulated render, transpired solar collectors and low emissivity double glazed aluminium clad timber frame windows and doors.

The south facing roof comprises glazed solar photovoltaic panels, fully integrated into the design of the building, allowing the roof space below to be naturally lit. This has been designed to reduce the cost of installing bolt-on solar panels on a standard roof.

The house's energy systems combine solar generation and battery storage to power both its combined heating, ventilation, hot water system and its electrical power systems, which include appliances, LED lighting and a heat pump. The TSC solar air system preheats the ventilation air which is topped up from a thermal water store.

"Now the house has been built our key task is to ensure that all of the measures that we have put in place are monitored to ensure the most energy efficient use," adds Professor Jones. "We will use this information to inform future projects with the aim of ensuring that Wales remains at the heart of the development of a zero carbon housing future."

The SOLCER House took a total of 16 weeks to construct and was completed in February, 2015. It is located at Cenin Renewables' site in Pyle, near Bridgend.

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