By Simon Anderson, Chief Strategy Officer, geo — In my last article for Ethical Performance I outlined
what the near future will look like if our demands for electricity outstrip supply and highlighted some of the potential solutions in terms of demand management and Hybrid Homes.
The affordability of housing has been dominating news headlines recently, prompted, in part, by the publishing of a new Housing white paper. This addresses the unaffordability of owning your own home, but it is only one aspect of affordability: the cost of running a home also needs to be considered. To keep costs down, surely any new homes that are built to deal with the housing crisis, also need to be as energy efficient as possible to reduce through life running costs?
I have already detailed the many advantages of initiatives that allow homeowners to use solar PV panels, and energy storage systems plus smart metering and smart tariffs to run houses at off-peak costs. These initiatives also allow them to sell electricity back to the grid, both saving them money, and smoothing out demand.
The other consideration is that new homes built with full insulation properly installed require very little heat. There is even evidence that the cost of supplying either gas or district heating is more expensive than properly insulating a home and fitting all-electric heating.
So, this is a start in getting control of demand management, but District Energy Systems also have a part to play. These are ideal for new developments, particularly community housing, which is a significant part of the Government’s housing proposals.
A District Energy System works in the same way as district heating, but instead of a central boiler serving a group of houses, it uses community-owned energy efficient technology such as battery storage, solar panels or a wind turbine to generate electricity. The community has to be fully committed to taking its energy from that source, but equally the savings it offers more than make up for the loss in consumer choice.
The other factor that we should take into account when addressing housing and the demand for electricity is the introduction of the building “Smartness Indicator”. New legislation is being introduced by the EU as part of the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) that will measure the demand capacity of a building and its contribution to the smart grid – an “active” measure.
Think of this as the equivalent of the CO2 emission figure for a car. The combination of this indicator and the building’s passive Energy Performance Certificate which measures its fabric could be used to drive down the energy costs of new and refurbished buildings in the same way that the CO2 emissions figure has been used to drive down the energy costs of transport.
This measure needs to be ratified and approved and is a concept that has the full support of the Smart Energy Demand Coalition. It should be actively considered now as it has the potential to make use of all the information about a building that will be gathered by the new smart meters, smart appliance labelling and provide a measure that could see the introduction of ‘green mortgages’, help to buy or other tax breaks for the most energy efficient homes.
The Housing white paper provides an opportunity to look beyond building homes and assess their sustainability and their long-term energy consumption as part of the bigger picture. This is not just to the advantage of the homeowner and nor should an “electric home” be more expensive to build. Every step we take from solar panels and residential batteries through to local energy provision and smart building indicators reduces demands on the over-burdened electrical grid. Of course, lower energy bills are to be welcomed, of course it makes sense in terms of energy efficiency, but above all, it helps to redress the balance between electricity supply and demand before it is too late.