Sustainable affordable homes-Changing mindsets.
Dr Glen Peters, CEO Western Solar Ltd, Presentation at the UN Climate Change conference in Marrakesh. 11 Nov 20116
Good Morning or as we say in Wales, ‘Bore da’.
Most of you here won’t spare a thought about heating your house to make it comfortable to live in. However back in the UK millions of households have to think twice about putting the heating on due to the cost of energy. They are forced to live in homes that are far too cold, resulting in an estimated £5bn cost to the NHS in health related problems.
The reason is that most of the housing stock is quite inappropriate for today when energy costs rise steadily upwards and there is also concern for global warming. Bricks, cement, stone, tiles and other building materials are not only carbon intensive in manufacture but hard to recycle and have terrible thermal properties.
In 2013 we sought to change that by deciding that homes should be made of material that was cheaply available, had excellent thermal properties and that each homes should generate its own energy.
Well, we succeeded in our first phase by building a prototype and developing the first solar village in Wales. Now we’re on our next phase of convincing the rest of the industry that things need to change.
This is our story.
Our company Western Solar built the first solar farm in Wales in 2011. We were delighted that a year later we had produced 1.2 GW of clean energy without much in the way of maintenance costs. At about that time a report was published highlighting the issue of energy poverty in low income households, the costs to the health service and even early deaths in the elderly.
We decided to invest our income from the solar farm in a thought experiment. What if we could produce a house that was cheap to build, uncompromising on energy efficiency and produced its own energy from solar photovoltaic panels.
We researched for several months talking to people who had done similar projects in the UK and in Europe where ambient temperatures are far lower in the winter. We concluded that :-
1. Locally sourced timber was the cheapest material to use. It had excellent thermal properties and it was one of the most sustainable materials we could work with (trees absorb carbon from the atmosphere).
2. We should manufacture as much of the house in a factory before erecting it on site.
3. Reengineering the design of traditional homes was vital to reduce costs. We eliminated one roof, redundant spaces such as attics and most of the plumbing.
4. We would maximise the use of insulation to make the house highly thermally efficient. Recycled newsprint was ideal
5. And finally the house would be south facing to maximise the solar gain from daylight. All windows would be on this side to drawn in the energy from daylight.
The result was Ty Solar, our 100 sqm 3-bed prototype. It was clad in larch, covered in solar panels on its mono-pitched roof facing south and generated 6000KwH of energy over the year. The solar gain from daylight accounted for 80% of the space heating requirements and its 275mm insulated walls with treble glazed windows retained heat several hours after darkness.
Visitors came to the opening and were impressed but there continued to be resistance to the idea. This was too innovative. Too risky. And yet all over Northern Europe similar homes were the norm..
The Solar Village
So we decided to build our first solar village of six homes to further demonstrate that the idea was viable on a bigger scale. We eventually managed to acquire the site of a disused garage and build six homes, four 2-bed and two 3-bed homes based on our prototype.
The homes will be for rent at 20% below the market rate, making them affordable and tenants will enjoy very low energy living, approximating to a saving of more than £1000 pa.
There have been a few other benefits too in terms of job creation, new skills, and local supply chains. Around 60% of the total cost of the development has gone into the local economy. On future developments we estimate that for every £1m spent:-
1. 10 affordable homes can be built.
2. £600,000 will go into the local economy helping local businesses and establishing local supply chains
3. 100 tonnes of carbon will be saves per annum
4. 60,000KwH of electricity will be generated
5. The development could return 4% pa to investors if the project were financed by a community trust or private financier.
Looking ahead there are challenges to see if this approach will succeed. The industry is still locked down in traditional forms of construction. Affordable land too is difficult to acquire. But we are confident that once people begin to move into their new homes they will be our best advocates of change.