29 Sep 2015

Renewable revolution: The Welsh School of Architecture's new smart house


The Welsh School of Architecture has designed and built a zero carbon and energy smart house as an example of low cost, environmentally friendly home building.

Professor Phil Jones and his team based at Cardiff University’s Welsh School of Architecture have created a property that is capable of exporting more energy to the national electricity grid than it uses. The Solcer House was built in just 16 weeks, the property’s unique systems approach to design combines renewable energy supply, thermal and electrical energy storage and reduced energy demand. The result is an energy positive house at an affordable cost.

Professor Phil Jones, Chair of Architectural Science at Welsh School of Architecture, Cardiff University, comments: “The building demonstrates a leading edge low carbon supply, storage and demand technology at a domestic scale which we hope will be replicated in other areas of Wales and the UK in the future.”

In order to minimise the energy demand, the house has been built with high levels of thermal insulation and reduced air leakage. It uses an innovative energy efficient design which includes low carbon cement, SIPS, external insulated render, transpired solar air collectors (TSC) and low emissivity double glazed aluminium clad timber frame windows and doors.

The integrative approach to construction uses renewable energy systems as building elements. The upper first floor wall incorporates the TSC solar air collector and the south facing roof is the 4.3kWp PV panel system. This reduces costs and improves aesthetics, avoiding the ‘bolt-on’ approach often associated with renewable energy systems. The aim of the design was to reduce the embodied energy in the building construction, as well as reducing the operating energy over its lifetime use.

Integrated approach

The energy systems combine solar generation and battery storage to power both its combined heating, ventilation, hot water system, and its electrical power systems which includes appliances and LED lighting. In winter, space heat is provided by passing external air through the upper south facing transpired solar air collector (TSC), then through a mechanical ventilation heat recovery unit (MVHR), and then into the rooms. Exhaust air is passed through the MVHR and then through an exhaust air heat pump, which heats the thermal water store. The thermal store heats domestic hot water (DHW). The heat pump is powered by the PV and battery storage system. The house uses grid electricity supply when the PV-battery system is exhausted.

The components of the building have been sourced, as far as reasonably practicable, from Welsh manufacturers and installers, and the house will be used as a demonstration of advanced Welsh construction technologies. The low carbon systems have been designed to be affordable and replicable, using market available technologies. This systems approach aims to use a very low amount of energy to provide a comfortable environment for the building’s occupants.

The Solcer House was built as part of the Low Carbon Research Institute (LCRI) programme, set up to unite and promote energy research in Wales and to help deliver a low carbon future by uniting the diverse range of low carbon energy research across Welsh universities at Cardiff, Swansea, South Wales, Glyndwr, Bangor and Aberystwyth, working closely with industry and government.

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