Source: Housing Association Building & Maintenance (HABM), 2 July 2013.
Proving homes that are both affordable and sustainable is an increasingly challenging task for housing associations. Mark Elliott discusses the contribution that solar power can make and the importance of implementng effective energy monitoring.
As the cost of living shoots up and power companies warn of possible blackouts due to insufficient capacity in the network, it is probable that the launch of the 2013 Building regulations this autumn will require all new-builds to comply with level 4 of the Code of Sustainable Homes, something which the affordable housing sector has already been working to for a number of months.
Indeed, many housing associations and
social housing landlords already have buildings fitted with renewable energy
technologies as standard, while some older stock has also benefitted from
retrofitted equipment. It is not uncommon to see collections of solar panels on
the roofs of housing association properties and the benefits can be
Solar power provides an opportunity for
housing associations and social housing landlords to improve the long-term
energy prospects of their tenants by alleviating fuel poverty and greatly
reducing their carbon emissions. This is increasingly important in light of
recent research by the Association for the Conservation of Energy which found
that Britain has the highest fuel poverty figures in Western Europe (March
2013). Despite the cuts to Feed-in-Tariff (FiT), some of which have already
taken effect, the benefits
of subsidies for landlords and discounted electricity bills for tenants offered
by renewable energy will continue to transpire as inflation continues and
utility companies increase their prices.
Of course, it isn’t just about the
installation of renewable energy technology; the full benefits of measures such
as solar panels will only be realised if they are supported by wider efforts to
encourage people to be more energy efficient. Installations are often out of
sight, out of mind, so encouraging the behavioural change needed to achieve the
true benefits of solar power has been difficult in the past. Landlords and
tenants alike need to gain a true insight into energy use in their building,
which will give them control to reduce their own electricity bills.
Energy monitoring can improve both the
financial and environmental performance of housing association properties and
social housing. There are a number of monitoring technologies available, the
best of which will fit conveniently and cleanly into the tenant’s living space,
providing visibility of both energy being used and carbon emissions being
produced. When an installation has generated surplus power, equipment like the
Wattson Solar Plus monitor will glow green telling residents that they can use
the free power.
Giving the tenants transparency in this
way enables them to shift from using high energy consuming items like washing
machines at peak power cost times, to using them when power is ‘free’ because
the installation is generating at full capacity. Indeed, some of the more
sophisticated monitoring equipment will link to online portals, such as Wattson
Anywhere, which will show historic data on consumption and energy escape,
ultimately allowing tenants to plan their energy use going forward.
2012, a ground-breaking scheme to drive
energy efficiency in homes in the Leicestershire village of North Kilworth had
a dramatic impact on residents’ behaviour. A total of 80 Wattson energy
monitors were handed out to residents in an initiative led by the Village Power
Community Interest Company (CIC) as part of a programme of activities designed
to reduce the village’s carbon footprint. After just two months, two thirds of
residents involved with the Local Energy Assessment Fund (LEAF) project confirmed
that their energy usage had changed and the same number wanted more information
on energy efficiency. Nine out of 10 said they would recommend the Wattson monitor
to a friend.
phase of the LEAF project has seen free Optiplugs supplied to the community.
The Optiplug is an intelligent socket which automatically diverts energy to
appropriate appliances when there is spare energy being produced by the system.
This means that appliances, such as washing machines, dishwashers, phone
chargers and heated towel rails only receive power when it is free to the
Housing Partnership (PHP) is in the process of installing solar PV in around a
quarter of its managed stock. Part of the Alliance Home Framework Partnership,
PHP is also rolling out the Wattson Solar Plus energy monitoring equipment as
part of its bid to lift tenants out of fuel poverty, cutting energy bills by an
average of £10 per week, per property. As well as reducing bills and cutting
emissions, the project aims to engage entire families in the issue of energy
efficiency, using bold displays and tenant roadshows to convey the messages.
Making use of 'free energy'
Using ‘free electricity’ becomes quite
easy with the right monitoring technology in place. However, this has
historically only been useful when the tenant is at home to make use of the
power being generated. The latest innovations in the marketplace provide
residents with smart technology that can learn how much power is required
around the building at different times and then automatically divert enough
energy to power an appliance when there is free energy available. As an
example, the Optimmersion can convert surplus free electricity into hot water
via immersion heaters, with typical savings in the region of £131 per year for an oil-fired boiler and £175 per year for electrically-heated water.
More and more renewable installations are being fitted
as standard on new housing. However, the biggest driver for installations is
the financial benefits. When landlords invest in solar PV, they’re freeing
tenants from utility companies, enabling them to secure their own energy use,
and in some cases, lifting them out of fuel poverty. However, when they combine
this with the right monitoring technology and smart metering, the results can
be far greater than anticipated.
Download full article here