Environment

A cutting-edge research facility in England is looking to design the house of the future

A view of Manchester, England, at night.

Nigel_Wallace | iStock | Getty Images

In England, scientists are trying to create the home of the future by testing how varying types of weather affect energy use in both homes and small buildings.

Construction work is underway on a £16 million ($21.07 million) facility which will utilize a heating, ventilating and air conditioning system to create snow, solar exposure, rain and wind in two “giant chambers.”

Two furnished houses will be located in each of these chambers at the University of Salford’s Energy House 2.0 site. Scientists will be able to drop temperatures to minus 20 degrees Celsius (minus 4 degrees Fahrenheit) or, at the other end of the spectrum, increase it to 40° Celsius.

The houses will be fitted with a range of kit including smart meters and vehicle-to-grid technology. So-called smart meters allow consumers to see how much energy they are using and money they are spending. The University of Salford described the vehicle-to-grid system as a type of technology through which “renewable energy stored in a car battery pushes power back to the grid.”

The future technologies division of electricity and gas supplier Octopus Energy will act as the main partner in the project. It will provide the laboratory with renewable electricity, among other things.

Part of the funding for the scheme has come from the European Regional Development Fund. Work on the facility began last month with the formal launch taking place this week.

The project’s aims are nothing if not ambitious. In an announcement Thursday, the University of Salford said Energy House 2.0 would “shape the homes of the future, bring the UK to net carbon zero quicker and help alleviate fuel poverty.”

The university, which is located in the northwest of England, added that the facility would also provide insight on how insulation materials, smart energy products and batteries respond to different climates.

William Swan is director of Energy House Laboratories at the university. In a statement, he said controlled conditions meant experiments could be repeated “in a way that cannot be done outside.” 

“We can cut study times from years to a matter of weeks,” he added. “This type of capability allows us to support low carbon innovation in a way that is not possible elsewhere.”

The project builds on previous research conducted by the team at the University of Salford and represents just one example of how organizations in the U.K. are working towards making the built environment more sustainable.

In October, it was announced that a local authority in the U.K. would provide university researchers with a house to test low-carbon technologies. The partnership, between Hull City Council and the University of Hull in the northeast of England, will focus on the use of “combined ventilation and air source heat pump technology.”

Information on both heating and energy use in the house will be collected over the course of a year, with the project team analyzing the technology’s affordability and efficacy.

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