What is your current role at your Institution?
My primary research interest is in the development, deployment and integration of novel technologies and materials to achieve a low carbon-built environment. I lead a team at the Welsh School of Architecture (WSA) at Cardiff University in the SPECIFIC 2 Low Carbon Built Environment project who are working directly with building owners, occupiers and supply chains, including manufacturers and installers, on the integration of whole energy systems into the built environment. We use a range of modelling and monitoring techniques to plan, design and instal evidence based renewable energy generation, storage and demand reduction technologies to create low carbon-built environments that are replicable and affordable. Working on 16 projects with over 150 domestic and commercial buildings involved, the research includes new builds and the retrofit existing buildings.
I also lead the Energy, Environment and People Research and Scholarship Group at the WSA. With over 60 staff and Postdoc students involved this is the largest research group in the school with a mandate to encourage the development of new researchers and research ideas and communicate the very broad range of research activities undertaken across the group, both within the School and externally.
Within EnergyREV I lead the Knowledge Management, Engagement and Dissemination activities to maximise collaboration and effective engagement between the 50+ multidisciplinary experts from 22 Universities from across the UK, whilst also engaging with others in the PFER Programme and the wider Smart Local Energy Systems network to help deliver EnergyREV and PFER programme.
How does this role build on previous work?
I was involved in the proposal development and Management and Scientific Committees of the Low Carbon Research Institute Convergence Energy Programme, a cross Wales collaboration of Universities undertaking research in the low carbon sector. As part of this programme I led the Solcer project where a team from the WSA applied a whole energy system approach to a range of typical home retrofits and also designed and constructed the first energy-positive affordable home in the UK – the Solcer House.
The Solcer house is an exemplar building and has been used by Ministers at the Welsh Government to encourage the widespread rollout of high standard, low carbon housing in Wales through its Innovative Housing Programme to support a robust and economically viable supply chain in the low carbon sector. A number of social housing companies in Wales are in the process of building homes based on the Solcer House which are due to be occupied early in 2021.
Our retrofit case studies, also delivered as part of the Solcer project, have been used as key case studies in the ’Better Homes, Better Wales, Better World’ report produced by the Decarbonisation of Homes in Wales Government Advisory Group which has led to a new Optimised Retrofit Programme (ORP) launched by the Minister for Housing and Local Government in August 2020 where it will make available at least £9.5m in 2020/21 in support of Welsh Ministers plans for a housing-led green economic recovery (COVID-19 Reconstruction: Challenges and Priorities).
What is the most exciting thing about the research that you have done to date?
Demonstrating to the construction industry and stakeholders that largely off the shelf technologies can be used in innovative ways to make low risk, affordable and effective improvements to building performance is very exciting. One of the main challenges facing smart local energy systems is collaboration between stakeholders to deliver what are very multi-disciplinary systems. Encouraging supply chains to work together to enable this can be challenging, but the benefits are significant with huge carbon reductions being achieved, particularly when everyone involved has more of an understanding of why they are doing what they are doing and when it should be done!
The delivery stage of a demonstration project can be stressful with the pressure of having to solve real world construction problems on site the following day. Monitoring and modelling can’t predict all of the problems! Ultimately all of the low carbon projects that I have been involved in have had very successful outcomes. Receiving positive feedback from the occupiers of the domestic retrofits makes up for the challenges faced during the projects. Comments such as ‘my daughters asthma has gone since the (retrofit) work to our home was complete’, ‘this is the most exciting project that I have ever worked on’ and ‘we are so much warmer and financially better off now, it has made such a difference to our lives’ show the added value of the work.
Seeing the speed at which technological solutions are being developed is also very exciting – some of the first retrofits that we carried out involved the installation of car batteries for energy storage as there was not an appropriate solution on the market. Energy storage has certainly come a long way since then.
What skills and perspectives are you bringing to EnergyREV?
All of the research projects that I have been involved in have been multidisciplinary, working with a broad range of stakeholders to deliver practical solutions to help deliver a low/zero carbon future.
As Co-I in the EU COST ACTION Low Carbon Urban Built Environment (LCUBE) followed by COI and Lead of End User Engagement and Dissemination for Smart Energy Regions (Smarter) project, involving 28 European Countries, I have an appreciation of the broad range of knowledge, skills, personalities, drivers and pressures that have to be accommodated when delivering large and multidisciplinary projects. Context also includes people who have the motivation to find solutions to problems.
I have also worked closely with a broad range of non-academic stakeholders including policy makers, industrialists and building end users and therefore understand the need to deliver outcomes in a way that can be understood so that they can be used in practice.
Having had first-hand experience of delivering demonstration projects and understanding the challenges and opportunities that exist helps to appreciate what the PFER demonstration and design projects are going through and in my role as Knowledge Management, Engagement and Dissemination lead for EnergyREV.