14 February 2023
Customer Energy Village Project
We highlight the Customer Energy Village project, and the role it can play in tackling the decarbonisation challenges posed by domestic heating.
Gas decarbonisation is one of the biggest challenges facing our country today. Natural gas has traditionally been the fuel source of choice for heating our homes, with 85% of UK dwellings having a gas connection. However, with domestic heating responsible for one-third of the UK’s carbon emissions, finding sustainable alternatives will be crucial for a greener tomorrow.
There are plenty of solutions to decrease carbon emissions and maximise energy efficiency in future homes, but doing the same for existing domestic dwellings provides a more complex challenge.
According to the Office for National Statistics, the age of a property is the biggest single factor in determining its energy efficiency - and the UK has one of the oldest housing stocks in Europe. One in six homes in England (15%) and a fifth of homes in Wales (23%) were built before 1900, while 46% of English homes and 39% of Welsh homes were built between 1930 and 1982. Homes built after 2012 are much more likely to have an EPC rating of C or above, but these represent only 7% of English and 5% of Welsh dwellings.
The crucial role of gas
Until now, the decarbonisation of the UK energy system has primarily focused on building renewable power generation capacity, while conversations around the decarbonisation of home heating have focused on the electrification of new build homes or the installation of heat pumps. However, these solutions are not practical or cost-efficient in every scenario, particularly where older homes are concerned. We should also consider the increased demand for power that electrification will create, and how quickly new capacity can be brought online to meet that demand. It’s clear that a back-up solution is required.
Hydrogen represents a promising solution to decarbonise our gas system with minimal disruption. Early trials proved that hydrogen blends of up to 20% can be safely deployed into our existing gas network. The safety case for 100% hydrogen is currently being concluded, and trials are underway to supply 100% hydrogen to a neighbourhood, a village and potentially a town by the end of the decade, in line with the UK Government’s 10-point plan for Green Industrial Revolution.
Introducing the Customer Energy Village
To help overcome the challenge of decarbonising an ageing housing stock, a new research project is set to take place at a Northern Gas Networks’ (NGN) research site at Low Thornley, Gateshead. Here, NGN is building its Customer Energy Village, consisting of nine houses built in different styles and to building standards spanning the 20th century. They will include two 1910 terraced houses, two semi-detached houses from the 1930s, a 1950s bungalow, two flats from the 1970s and a detached 1990s home.
These properties represent millions of homes across the UK and will replicate original materials and features of typical period properties. The replicas will allow NGN, partners and researchers to implement different technologies and research a range of low and zero carbon solutions on the types of houses we already live in; to better understand and address the real-life challenges of decarbonising period properties.
NGN will be supported by partners at Newcastle University, National Energy Action and North East Energy Catalyst, and has already secured £1.96 million from the North East Local Enterprise Partnership through the Local Growth Fund and Getting Building Fund.
Data from the Customer Energy Village research project will help countless municipalities across the UK to plot a practical path towards domestic heat decarbonisation. It will also allow industry stakeholders to test and scale solutions for moving customers onto low-carbon energy, facilitating the deployment of future technologies in a fair, affordable and consumer-friendly way.
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