SPONSORSHIP AWARD: Urban-scale Building Energy Network

Lead Research Organisation: Imperial College London
Department Name: Civil & Environmental Engineering


The Climate Change Act 2008 requires a 34% cut in 1990 greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 and at least an 80% reduction in emissions by 2050. Residential and commercial buildings account for 25% and 18% of the UK's total CO2 emissions respectively and therefore have a significant role to play in a national decarbonisation strategy. As the UK has some of the oldest and least efficient buildings in Europe, there is substantial scope for improving the efficiency of energy end-use within UK buildings. However efforts to improve building energy efficiency, specifically the thermal efficiency of the building fabric, have to date focused primarily on the analysis and assessment of single properties. The slow uptake of insulation measures through the Green Deal and Energy Companies Obligation testifies to the difficulty of achieving these changes on a house-by-house basis. If the UK is to achieve its energy and climate policy targets, then a more ambitious whole-city approach to building energy improvements is needed. Technical innovations in remote sensing and infrared thermography mean that it is now possible to conduct building efficiency surveys at a mass scale. The challenge is how such data can be improved (for example moving from 2D plan imagery to 3D models of the built environment) and combined with systems analysis tools to inform effective retrofit strategies.

The Urban Scale Building Energy Network will investigate this research challenge by bringing together five academic co-investigators with disciplinary expertise from across the building retrofit value chain from remote autonomous sensing to building physics, energy systems design, consumer behaviour and policy. Working with two experienced mentors from the fields of energy systems and building energy services, the co-investigators will undertake a series of activities in collaboration with project partners from industry and government to better understand the research challenge and develop roadmaps for future research. The activities include:
- Two workshops and a series of bilateral meetings for the academic team to learn about each other's expertise and how it can be coordinated and brought to bear on the research challenge. The project mentors will play a crucial role here, helping the co-investigators to create personal development plans that will build both technical and non-technical skills for successful careers.
- A workshop with over 20 representatives from government and industry to discuss previous experience and the perceived obstacles to more ambitious building energy retrofits.
- An active online communications strategy incorporating a project website, YouTube videos, and a Twitter hashtag campaign in order to engage the general public and understand how households and commercial building occupants understand the challenge of transforming the UK's building stock.
- A feasibility study to summarize the state of the art in new sensing technologies and analysis techniques for building thermal energy performance assessment and to identify major outstanding challenges for future research proposals.

The proposed network will therefore facilitate collaboration between academics, industry, government and the general public to address a question of great national importance. The project outputs will help to create a wider understanding of the specific challenges facing the UK's aspirations for the transformation of its building stock as well as highlighting potentially fruitful avenues for research. The network therefore aspires to build upon this twelve-month programme of work and develop significant long-term research collaborations with benefits for academic knowledge, society and the wider economy.

Planned Impact

The Urban Scale Building Energy Network will bring together a diverse group of academic partners, mentors, industry and government stakeholders to examine the challenges that must be overcome if the UK is to achieve a mass-scale transformation of the thermal efficiency of its building stock. Through workshop and dissemination activities, the network aims to achieve impact for society and the economy as follows:

Academic network members - The five co-investigators are all early to mid-career academics, representing a range of disciplinary expertise relevant to the energy consumption of buildings. The network activities will enable the co-investigators to broaden their understanding of the research challenge, to develop technical skills in infrared thermography, to refine their career plans through the guidance of the network mentors and development of personal development plans, and to connect with a wider network of industry, government, and other stakeholders. The co-investigators have been identified by their universities as future engineering leaders and these activities will help them to establish the skills and personal connections needed for long-term research careers that benefit society and the economy.

Industry stakeholders - The network has the support of industry stakeholders representing all stages of the building retrofit value-chain including E.ON (energy suppliers), AECOM (building services engineers), IRT (thermal imaging and analysis), and Laing O'Rourke (commercial building construction). Through a collaborative industry workshop, these stakeholders will learn about the latest research related to the research challenge and have an opportunity to share their experience, identify potential commercial collaborators for new products and services, and steer the development of future funding proposals (through the Technology Strategy Board, Research Councils, or other avenues). Other industry stakeholders have expressed an interest in the network and will encourage a wider industry impact (e.g. IES, MITIE, HotMapping, Giles Aviation). The Dept. of Energy and Climate Change estimates that the energy efficiency industry is worth approximately £18 billion pounds annually and is set to grow at an annual rate of 5%. The network will therefore enable UK firms to be at the cutting edge of this growing market, developing new products and services for both domestic and export markets in the energy, construction, and software sectors.

Government stakeholders - The network has support from a local authority (Newcastle City Council) and an expression of interest from the Department of Energy and Climate Change. As invited participants in the industry workshop, these groups will learn about the latest research and discuss the obstacles that they see to achieving a mass transformation of the UK's building stock. This enables a pathway to impact on policy at the national and local scale.

General public and civil society - Achieving urban-scale improvements in building energy efficiency will clearly require the support of the general public as occupants of buildings. Using videos and social media campaigns, the network will engage with the general public, informing them of the research challenge and providing an opportunity to share their experiences and concerns with the research team. The network also has the support of the National Energy Action fuel poverty charity and interest from Scotland 2020 Climate Group. With rising energy bills and political uncertainty around retrofit subsidy programmes, fuel poverty is unfortunately likely to remain a serious problem for the health and well-being of UK households. Engagement with these groups enables a pathway to societal impact, with an emphasis on climate change and fuel poverty.


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Description Research still on going.
Exploitation Route New funding applications will be submitted.
Sectors Construction,Energy