Maximising the diffusion and impact of microgeneration technologies in new housing

Lead Research Organisation: University of Reading
Department Name: Construction Management and Engineering


This project will inform and influence the need for and use of microgeneration technology (MGT) in new build houses. The research is highly relevant and timely as the UK government has set a target that all new houses must be zero-carbon by 2016 and that the use of MGTs will be needed to meet this target. The widespread introduction and use of MGTs will have significant implications. For energy providers, MGTs will move the balance away from centralised energy generation and distribution towards a decentralised model. MGTs will enable end-users to generate electricity for their own use with any surplus being sold to the grid company. In addition, the installation of MGTs has been found to significantly shift end-users awareness, attitudes and behaviour towards improved energy efficiency. For MGT manufacturers and installers, the substantial increase in demand will expand the MGT market and offer new business opportunities and challenges. Finally, for housing developers, the integration of MGTs will require radical innovation in their business strategies, supply chain management, design and production. The successful diffusion of MGTs in the new build housing sector will therefore need multi-level changes across institutional, supply chain and end-user actors. The uptake of MGTs so far has been extremely small. Research to date on the barriers to MGT diffusion has pursued a limited 'technology push' perspective. This perspective has generally ignored the critical social and market dynamics which shape (and are shaped by) the development and use of MGTs. The proposed research adopts a socio-technical network analysis approach which is needed to properly understand the conditions and processes which facilitate (or hinder) the creation and solidification of appropriate supply chains and end-user strategies and practices. These conditions and processes will vary from country to country. Lessons and good practice may therefore be identified and shared through cross-country comparisons. The programme of work in the project involves three principal streams of integrated activity. First, six UK housing development case studies will be undertaken which will investigate the MGTs employed in particular developments. Housing development case studies will be produced and, from the fieldwork, three key MGTs used in new build housing will be identified. Second, these prioritised MGTs will be the focus of three UK MGT case studies which will concentrate on the particular MGTs and associated manufacture(s). The work will result in MGT case study reports and an analytical framework to allow comparisons between MGTs and between national institutional contexts. Third, the analytical framework will be used to conduct a comparison between France and the UK. EDF researchers will conductthe fieldwork in France. The comparison will allow the integration of cross-national data and comparative institutional analysis of the effect of national conditions on variations in the socio-technical networks supporting the design and deployment of MGTs. The project will benefit from having the following as industrial partners: the National House Building Council Foundation, the Home Builders Federation and the British Electrotechnical and Allied Manufacturers Association. The partners are highly regarded in their sectors and their views are sought by government as the 'representative voice' of the industry. The academic project team from the EPSRC funded Innovative Manufacturing Research Centres at the University of Reading and the University of Salford has a proven track record in leading and managing successful collaborative funded projects. Further, the academic team has the multi-disciplinary expertise required for the project: the delivery of sustainable housing; new product development in high technology sectors; procurement and supply chain management; and, socio-technical network analysis.

Planned Impact

WHO WILL BENEFIT FROM THIS RESEARCH? The project will benefit three key communities: (1) the housing developers and microgeneration technology (MGT) manufacturers and installers; (2) policy-makers concerned with housing, microgeneration technology and sustainable transition management; and, (3) directly, the owners and end-users of new housing and, indirectly, society through the reduction of carbon emissions. HOW WILL THEY BENEFIT FROM THIS RESEARCH? The proposed project will benefit these important communities by providing evidence-based guidance for: (a) policy-makers generally on how best to steer markets and technologies towards a low carbon path and, specifically, the new housing market and MGTs; (b) housing developers and MGT manufactures and installers on how to create appropriate supply chains which effectively and efficiently supply and integrate user-centred MGTs into new housing; and, (c) the owners and end-users of new housing to establish user requirements for MGTs and their appropriate integration into homes. The widespread use of microgeneration technologies in new houses is being policy-driven to tight timescales. The benefits from this project are thus critical and will be realised immediately by assisting the new build housing sector achieve user-centred zero carbon houses by 2016 and to enhance its competitiveness in this new regulatory environment. WHAT WILL BE DONE TO ENSURE THAT THEY BENEFIT FROM THE RESEARCH? The project has three key industrial partners which represent the housing development and microgeneration technology sectors: the National House Building Council (NHBC) Foundation; the Home Builders Federation (HBF); and, the British Electrotechnical and Allied Manufacturers Association. All three professional bodies have made the delivery of sustainable housing a priority and are seeking to collaborate with academic partners to produce rigorous, independent research which they are not in a position to do by themselves. The partners have been closely involved in all aspects of the preparation of this proposal. The established communication routes of the EDF and the industrial partners (for example, websites, seminars and good practice guidance) will be used to disseminate the results in a comprehensive fashion to their substantial and influential memberships. Further, the partners are highly regarded in their sectors and their views are sought by government. The companies and end-users involved in the nine case studies will benefit directly from the project experience and, for the companies, the lessons learned will be disseminated through their revised practices and supply chain interactions. The industrial partners and case study companies will be fully engaged in the programme of work and will be part of the project's Steering Committee. The industrial partners all have significant experience of collaborative research with academia in funded projects. The research team has already worked successfully on previous projects with the NHBC Foundation and the HBF. The NHBC Foundation, HBF and BEAMA will each make a contribution in kind to the project of 15 working days to identify suitable case studies and to attend Steering Committee meetings. The case study companies will each make a contribution of kind to allow access for the 72 interviews and the review of relevant company documentation, as well as attendance at the Steering Committee meetings (see 'case for support'). It is envisaged that the case study companies' contribution in total will be in the region of 50 working days. The overall responsibility for the leadership and co-ordination of the impact activities will be with Prof Martin Sexton, the Principal Investigator, working in close collaboration with the Steering Committee and the academic team.


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Description The selection of microgeneration technologies by house builders in principally driven by an incremental innovation logic to consolidation the firm's existing design templates and production processes.
Exploitation Route The key potential application of the results is to challenge the prevailing technocratic view of what constitutes an 'optimal' technical solution - rather commercial considerations around maintaining the status-quo with regard to standardised design templates and production processes
Sectors Construction,Energy