Millions of UK homes scanned for energy leaks to help reach net zero

by Admin
Millions of UK homes scanned for energy leaks to help reach net zero

A car kitted out with technology for gathering data on the condition of buildings

Madeleine Cuff

UK city-dwellers may have spotted a strangely shaped car cruising around their neighbourhood earlier this year. It looks just like a Google Street View vehicle, with a camera rig emerging from the back end to scan its environment – and like the Google cars, it, too, is scanning and photographing city streets.

But these modified Teslas aren’t just taking photos. They are kitted out with state-of-the-art sensors and scanners that enable them to report back on the exact dimensions, heat loss, materials, age and state of dilapidation of every building they drive past.

Armed with this so-called built environment scanning system (BESS), the cars have been on the hunt to find out how leaky and run-down the UK’s building stock really is. Between March and May, they scanned thousands of streets and millions of buildings across London, Liverpool, Cardiff, Glasgow, Manchester, Leeds and South Yorkshire.

The data from the BESS vehicles is being combined with thermal imagery captured by drones and planes in a £4 million government-funded project to build a huge digital database detailing the state of buildings across the UK. The aim is to help housing associations, councils and other property owners quickly plan retrofit projects across hundreds of properties at once, says Ahsan Khan at xRI, the UK not-for-profit organisation behind the project.

Decarbonising the UK’s building stock is one of the trickiest challenges for the journey to net-zero emissions. The country’s 30 million buildings contribute around one third of the UK’s total greenhouse gas emissions, with most of the pollution down to the use of gas to heat space and water.

Another issue is that many UK homes are old and draughty. Retrofitting these properties to become more energy efficient will be crucial, but with such huge variety in the age and condition of buildings, knowing where to start is a major challenge. “We’re hamstrung as a nation, because we don’t quite know what we’ve got, where it is and what we can do to it, in terms of the built environment,” says Khan.

The only mechanism right now for judging a building’s sustainability is energy performance certificates (EPCs). These are mandatory documents that grade every building on a scale of A to G and offer owners advice on how to improve their rating. But EPCs, which rely on judgement calls made by in-person assessors, are “expensive, slow and inaccurate”, says Mike Pitts at Innovate UK, a government agency part-funding the project. The UK Space Agency and the Welsh government are also funders.

For organisations looking to retrofit hundreds of properties in one go – housing associations or councils, for example – EPCs are of little use. Instead, they often have to send their own assessors to properties to plan a schedule of works, an expensive and time-consuming exercise.

Speeding up retrofits

The hope is the new database will digitise much of this process. If it works as planned, it will use machine learning to tell councils how many of their properties already have double-glazed windows fitted, for example, or which houses need a top-up of cavity wall insulation. In an instant, it will be able to locate exactly which homes have the space and sunshine for rooftop solar panels. Crucially, it should be able to calculate predicted savings on energy bills, providing return-on-investment information for organisations to unlock access to green finance.

“The xRI project represents a leap forward in our understanding of the existing stock,” says Mat Colmer at Innovate UK. “Verified data sets will improve and automate the process of renovation, speeding up the whole retrofit process.”

With around 7.5 per cent of homes in England, Scotland and Wales scanned already, Khan says the framework is in place to build a beta version of the database, due to be released later this year. For now, xRI is focused on decarbonising buildings. But the BESS vehicles collect data on everything they see, from tree cover to potholes, which could be put to use in the future. “The volume of data is just mind-boggling,” says Pitts.

David Glew at Leeds Beckett University, UK, says the project is “exciting”, but warns that in-home surveys will still be crucial before starting any retrofit work. “Homes have been messed around with so many times. So identical homes could be completely different,” he says. “While this fast, rapid stuff is great to accelerate progress and momentum, it cannot and should not replace really good-quality surveys in advance of doing the work.”

Kate Simpson at Nottingham Trent University, UK, says the neighbourhood data gathered by the BESS vehicles could prove useful when planning local power grid upgrades or climate resilience projects. But data should be captured mindfully, she says. “What is the minimum amount of data we need to make a good decision?” she says. “Because that minimises the environmental impact of storing that data.”

Source Link

You may also like

Leave a Comment

This website uses cookies. By continuing to use this site, you accept our use of cookies.