Optimised Retrofit Programme

Applying data to retrofit and decarbonise homes in Wales.

Last updated: 26th May 2021

Date uploaded:

Approved for use

Innovation Lead: Jack Wells

Website:
abc-rp.com/


Edit this story

Summary

The Active Building Centre Research Programme is using data to help retrofit and decarbonise social homes in Wales. It is applying learnings on how to best install carbon-reducing technologies and embed smart energy monitoring and control systems to reduce the carbon footprint of around 2,000 existing homes as part of the Welsh Governmentʼs Optimised Retrofit Programme (ORP). ORP has brought together dozens of active energy experts, research hubs, local authorities and social housing providers to create new retrofit standards. Over the next decade, as the programme scales, it hopes to improve affordable warmth in homes, reduce emissions, and create 15,000 new jobs in Wales. 

Innovation type: Digital, Energy, Process, Procurement
Organisation type: Government client, Research centre

Story building blocks:

Story building blocks:

Learn more about this innovation below and use these building blocks to craft your own story to share.

Open allClose all

Project pioneers

The Welsh Government is pioneering in using innovative ways to decarbonise the economy and improve the environment for future generations. This commitment has been legislated in the 2015 Wellbeing of Future Generations Act and the government invested £19.5 million in 2020/21 alone to kickstart the decarbonisation of existing homes across Wales.

The problem

80% of buildings in use by 2050 have already been built. The existing building stock is not efficient enough to meet net zero targets, and so there is an urgent need to decarbonise the stock through retrofit. This means that over 26 million homes need to be retrofitted with new technologies and systems to help reduce their carbon emissions. Current retrofit processes are not standardised. The gaps in knowledge and skills around the best technologies to use can lead to inconsistent outcomes that don't always meet sustainability targets or use energy in the most efficient and effective way. The knock-on effect is that the high cost of running poorly performing homes is felt most keenly by those on lower incomes.

Vision

Better performing buildings, lower fuel costs, improved energy infrastructure and increased knowledge will help Wales reduce fuel poverty and deliver homes fit for the future. The Optimised Retrofit Programme is setting Wales on the right path towards the decarbonisation of all homes. That means firstly improving the energy efficiency of existing buildings to cut heat demand, decrease the burden on the grid and deliver significantly improved whole-life value with reduced running costs. This will be possible through a better understanding of the retrofit processes, as well as energy-reducing technologies. Sensors, monitors, hardware, and software will create an Internet of Things (IoT) to gather data about the performance of the retrofitted houses. Knowledge, insight, and protocols can then be shared across the industry and support productivity and efficiency across the supply chain.

Key Insight

The Welsh Government committed to mass decarbonisation of homes in its 2015 Well-being of Future Generations Act. It needed a solution that would both deliver whole-life value for new build projects, but more urgently, reduce whole-life carbon in the existing building stock across the UK. To deliver on the new legislation, it instigated the Optimised Retrofit Programme (ORP) and reached out to the Active Building Centre Research Programme, who were already researching how to improve the data generated from newly built properties as part of the Welsh Government’s Innovative Housing Programme (IHP).

First step

The Active Building Centre Research Programme came on board to apply its knowledge from new builds to existing social housing stock, provide technical support to partners and deliver detailed programme evaluation. And so began one of the biggest retrofit programmes in the UK involving 5 local authorities and 27 registered social landlords with an aim to improve 2,000 homes by summer 2021.

Barrier

The lack of standardisation and data monitoring across current housing stock means there is also little quantitative, evidence-based decision-making about the most appropriate retrofit interventions for existing homes. The standardisation of how retrofit interventions are assessed, how data is collected, and how whole-life value is monitored will give the industry confidence in investing in changes to reduce emissions, improve comfort and create long-term value.

Digital Innovation

The project explored less carbon intensive technologies, improvements in building fabric, and digital-led approaches to reduce emissions, improve the interoperability of systems, and help collect consistent, valuable data. Some of these included solar photovoltaics for energy generation, battery storage and heat pumps, all to improve the active energy of the buildings and reduce demand on the grid. Standardised monitoring and control systems are being installed in participating houses to create an Internet of Things (IoT) to analyse building performance, assess the efficacy of different retrofit interventions under different conditions, and optimise the generation and storage of energy based on grid and occupant needs. Combined with the fabric improvements being introduced, this will help reduce carbon consumption and lower fuel bills for occupants. It will also take the strain off local energy networks and help properties take part in Demand Side Response (DSR) which keeps services flexible while the home monitoring systems ensure comfortable home environments for occupants. To support decision-making around these new technologies, Active Building Centre Research Programme has developed guidance on areas such as system topology (the shape of a local-area network), connectivity (how systems connect to each other), protocols (rules or procedures for transmitting data), and security (safe data storage and transfer).

Whole life innovation

To standardise the process of retrofitting homes through this programme, Active Building Centre Research Programme is applying a new framework to assess and measure every step of every retrofit intervention, against seven vital metrics. These metrics are aligned to the Welsh Government's Well-being of Future Generations Act (2015) and will improve the whole-life value of existing houses. The seven metrics are:

  1. Carbon reduction
  2. Economics
  3. Supply chain participation
  4. Health and wellbeing
  5. Energy performance
  6. Capacity and growth
  7. Social impact and place Standardising information in this way helps create a clear understanding across the supply chain about current building performance and which new approaches, processes or technologies could be combined to deliver the best possible retrofit outcomes. This kind of decision-making framework is new to supply chain partners and so, to ensure the right skills and knowledge are in place, the team are offering suppliers access to researchers and experienced industry practitioners at such as ABC-RP's Head of Technology, Josh Sykes. The framework, and the data being monitored, is now being applied across the participating local authorities and supply chain. It will improve the industry's understanding, familiarity and capability around retrofit, and is critical in the rollout of deep retrofit interventions at scale, in a way that will meaningfully contribute to achieving net zero. Equipped with this data, local authorities and social landlords will be able to take an evidence-based approach to retrofit planning across their areas. They will have access to improved building performance data to enable more proactive decisions around maintenance, reducing long-term costs. It will mitigate vendor lock-in with utility and service providers and support competition in the supply chain, fostering a culture of continuous improvement as suppliers vie to both win new customers and keep existing ones. And ultimately occupants will have improved living conditions and lower costs, leading to healthier, happier households.

Collaborators

The Active Building Centre Research Programme (ABC-RP) brings together ten leading universities, businesses and service providers to develop and test innovative technologies and ideas focused on helping the construction industry transform into a net zero emissions building sector within the next 30 years. ABC-RP is working closely with partners on the Optimised Retrofit Programme. Four of the programmes five schemes involve working with four local authorities - Carmarthenshire, Denbighshire, Ynys Mon and Vale of Glamorgan - who are all aiming to improve housing standards for their population. The fifth scheme is a consortium led and managed by two innovative housing associations and involves 27 separate social housing providers from across Wales. Pobl Housing Group lead the consortium while Sero Homes, who specialise in zero carbon homes, are managing the delivery. The consortium, funded by Welsh Government, encompasses over 1,300 homes and is developing new tools and resources that can be scaled to support decarbonisation of all homes across Wales. In addition to the funded partners, several SMEs are proving to be essential to the successful delivery of the project. From controls and integration specialists providing solutions for intelligent building systems, to subsystem providers adopting new approaches to service delivery. All the programme stakeholders are welcoming this new approach and developing much needed additional product functionality to enable the aspirations of the project to be realised.

  • Active Building Centre
  • Active Building Centre Research Programme (ABC-RP)
  • Carmarthenshire County Council
  • Denbighshire County Council
  • Pobl Group
  • Sero Homes
  • Vale of Glamorgan County Council
  • Welsh Government
  • Ynys Mon County Council

Lead support

The Transforming Construction Challenge supported the Active Building Centre Research Programme to deliver this project. Normally a large-scale project of this nature would have been beyond reach, and without this funding the research programme would not have been possible.

Long Term Vision

Over 80% of the buildings we will need in 2050 have already been built, and yet our buildings currently contribute towards 20% of the UK's carbon emissions. With a vision to decarbonise all its homes - old and new - the Welsh Government is creating more efficient buildings that will cut heat demand, decrease the burden on the grid and deliver significantly improved whole-life value with reduced running costs - something it committed to by law in the 2015 Well-being of Future Generations Act. The research and evidence from nearly 2,000 distributed homes in Wales will show it's possible to bring existing building stock up to modern energy performance standards while improving the quality of life for the occupants.

Human Stories

The unique nature of 2020 has meant that not only has the quality of homes become more important, as we are all spending more time in them, but also the disruption in the industry has impacted planned programmes of improvements, leaving some occupants in substandard living conditions. The Optimised Retrofit Programme will accelerate building improvements across Wales, reducing the impact of fuel poverty. To achieve deeper insight into how occupants benefit from retrofit improvements in their homes, the Social Sciences teams from Swansea University and Cardiff University are undertaking project lifecycle research activities. This will help to shape future projects, and ensure an approach that puts household wellbeing at the heart of construction can be adopted for larger-scale retrofit programmes. Conservative estimates suggest that there is a requirement for 300,000 homes to be retrofitted in Wales, creating an estimated 15,000 new jobs over the next 10 years. While new training and education programmes for social landlords and supply chain partners will support jobs growth in areas where new skills will be required for the future.

Powerful Processes

As part of its work with the Innovative Housing Programme (IHP), the ABC-RP team was already researching how to improve the data generated from newly built properties. So it is now applying the same approach to existing housing stock under the Welsh Government's Optimised Retrofit Programme, but on a much larger scale thanks to the Transforming Construction investment in ABC RP. Its standardised assessment and measurement framework will create a clear understanding across the supply chain about current building performance and which new approaches, processes or technologies could be combined to deliver the best possible retrofit outcomes. Zero carbon or less carbon intensive technologies recommended - such as fabric improvements, solar photovoltaics, battery storage, heat pumps, and Intelligent Energy Systems - all improve the active energy of the buildings and reduce demand on the grid. Standardised monitoring and control systems will analyse building performance, compare different retrofit interventions against one another, and optimise the generation and storage of energy based on grid and occupant needs. The open and data-driven approach will also support growth opportunities across the economy, stimulating a demand for new skills and expertise in low- and zero-carbon technologies.

Fascinating Facts

The Welsh Government has invested £19.5m to decarbonise homes in 2020/21. Conservative estimates suggest that there is a requirement for 26 million homes to be retrofitted across the UK. Five local authorities and 27 registered social landlords have been involved in this project. Approximately 2,000 homes will have benefited from this programme by summer 2021. It's estimated that this mass retrofit scheme will create 15,000 new jobs created over the next 10 years in Wales.

Benefits

Active Energy
Photovoltaics are being used across some areas of the Optimised Retrofit Programme to create active homes. For example, Denbighshire County Council is adding solar PVs to properties as part of its existing roof replacement programme. It is also using battery storage and intelligent energy systems in the most suitable properties, to allow occupants to benefit from variable energy tariffs and flexibility services such as demand side response. Anglesey County Council is combining the use of air source heat pumps and hybrid heating systems with intelligent energy systems to create homes that are at once responsive to grid demand signals and comfortable for each occupant.

Assurance
The data generated, and any relevant system components, are being deployed with standardised naming conventions across the participating properties, regardless of ownership or contractor involved. This relatively new approach means consistent data is collected and assessed across the programme. This will help to mitigate the risk associated with future investments and provide the evidence-base to determine best practice for the wider industry. And to support adoption and compliance with PAS2035, the ABC-RPʼs commercial counterpart, the Active Building Centre, is delivering complimentary PAS training and evaluation to project delivery partners.

Emissions
The project is researching a range of improvements in existing housing stock from fabric improvements, installation of more efficient systems (such as air-source heat pumps), onsite generation (such as PV), battery storage and intelligent controls - all of which are aimed at providing reductions in carbon emissions and improvements in the affordability of warmth in the home. Wales is widely seen as an ideal testbed for future focused, national-scale projects due to its varied terrain which encompasses busy urban conurbations to remote and relatively isolated, off-grid communities, as well its variety of industries, housing stock and power generation methods. The data from this project will support a more predictable transition from carbon intensive buildings, to homes that can play an active role in the energy infrastructure and support grid decarbonisation.

Regional Balance
ABC-RP is being delivered from offices in Swansea and Sheffield, providing high-value jobs to regions outside of the South East. The Optimised Retrofit Programme itself is being delivered across a diverse array of socioeconomic areas in Wales including Carmarthenshire, Denbighshire, Ynys Mon, Vale of Glamorgan, and Swansea. Conservative estimates suggest that there is a requirement for 900,000 homes to be retrofitted, creating an estimated 15,000 new jobs over the next 10 years in Wales. While new training and education programmes for RSLs and supply chain partners will support job growth in areas where new skills will be required for the future.

Uptake
As the toolset is refined, the data, findings and recommendations will be made available across the social housing, academia, industry, and government sectors. This will give the industry and associated partners a depth and breadth of actionable insight that will provide value for the future. Social landlords and local authorities in Wales, and beyond, can use the standardised frameworks and stock assessment and modelling tools, and the evidence from homes taking part in this programme, to make these new processes and approaches a key requirement when procuring new and retrofit housing programmes in the future. These open standards will also mitigate vendor lock-in with utility and service providers and support competition in the supply chain, fostering a culture of continuous improvement as suppliers vie to both win new customers and keep existing ones.

Whole-life Value
The open standards, new technologies and data-driven approach being recommended and trialled in this programme are aligned to the Well-being of Future Generations act and will become the foundation of a sustainable retrofit sector in Wales. And to achieve deeper insight into how occupants benefit from retrofit improvements in their homes, the Social Sciences teams from Swansea University and Cardiff University will be undertaking project lifecycle research activities to help shape future projects and show how these methods can be adopted for larger-scale retrofit programmes. The combined evidence from this project will ensure future retrofits and new builds have people and places at their heart, and deliver improved living environments, reduced emissions and homes that cost less to run, bringing people out of fuel poverty.