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Sky TV puts DMU's solar house research in spotlight

‘Find out how to never get a utility bill again’ – that was how Sky TV introduced a pioneering solar energy project involving De Montfort University Leicester (DMU).

 solar-inset

The UK’s first ever fully solar powered new build home, built at Great Glen, near Leicester and valued at around £1m, was the focus of a report on Swipe, a new technology programme, featuring an interview with Dr Andrew Wright of DMU’s Institute of Energy and Sustainable Development (IESD).

Work by the IESD on what is an exciting breakthrough for both residents and the housing sector adds to DMU’s outstanding track record of 'real world' research, a core strength of the university that delivers tangible improvements to healthcare, society and individuals’ lives.*

Dr Andrew Wright's interview begins at 0.45

Profiling how a solar panel roof and specially insulated walls create enough electricity to keep the ‘solar house’ running all year round, the Sky report explained how the hybrid panels also collect heat which is pumped into the ground and stored for use in the cooler months. The energy is brought back out of the ground, boosted by a heat pump and distributed through an underfloor heating system on the ground floor.

An interview with Lord Deben, Chair of the Climate Change Committee, highlighted how government wants all new homes to meet zero-carbon standards from next year, with overall UK carbon emissions to be cut by 80% by 2050.

Central to the solar house system is an ‘earth energy bank’, where holes are drilled into the ground underneath the house and pipes inserted to carry the thermal energy gathered from the roof into the ground. Electrical energy created by the panels is used for lights and appliances, and also exported to the grid.

Michael Goddard, director of builders Caplin Homes and inventor of the energy system, told viewers how the solar house generates 6,000 kilowatts of electricity a year, the equivalent of running a three kilowatt fan heater for 2,000 hours, or enough to supply an average house for 18 months. He claimed his energy storage system to be a “fit and forget system.”

As part of the team behind the five-bedroom solar house, the IESD at DMU acts as an independent assessor of the house’s zero-carbon status, bringing expertise in the field of sustainability and energy research to the project. The energy flows in the house have been intensively monitored by a full-time MSc student at the IESD.

Pointing to the growing trend to become more solar savvy, Dr Wright said: “The house building industry has to move towards more energy efficient living if it is to meet government targets and the solar house project could be a landmark stage in that process.

“The main aim of the project is to demonstrate to the building industry that it is possible to build housing that is zero-carbon and still remains commercially attractive.”

Mr Goddard added: “Energy bills are steadily increasing so for the householder, the zero-carbon home is an exciting prospect. Hopefully the solar house will prove that it is also an achievable and desirable step for house builders.”

The IESD is also working with Caplin Homes to transfer technology used at the solar house to a terraced property in Grasmere Street, adjacent to DMU. The IESD team will monitor the technology’s effectiveness in an older dwelling, then look to showcase its energy-efficient qualities to social landlords in the city. They will also monitor the earth store intensively with 48 temperature sensors, to understand how the heat flows and is stored underground.

DMU’s Rick Greenough, Reader in Industry Sustainability, said: “Earth bank technology is relatively new and what we are interested in is measuring how it will work when it’s used in an older property.

“We know it will not be as efficient as the solar house because these measures work best on well insulated new build homes but it will provide us with a marker and a better idea of how the technology can be adapted.”

DMU’s reputation for research was confirmed by the recent REF 2014, the most recent UK-wide initiative to assess the quality of research in UK universities. DMU research quality has increased by 15 per cent since 2008 and DMU was placed in the top half of UK universities for ‘research power’. Almost 60 per cent of DMU research was judged to be ‘world-leading’ or ‘internationally excellent’.

Posted on: Friday 10 July 2015

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