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Interdisciplinary Retrofit Research Announced

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The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the National Environment Research Council (NERC) have announced its funding associated with the 2nd wave of its Decarbonising Heating and Cooling Research programme. Among those projects is a project called Flexible Air Source Heart Pump for Domestic Heating Decarbonisation (FASHION). This project is a three year partnership between the PI, Professor Zhibin Yu at the School of Engineering at the University of Glasgow and colleagues from CaCHE (Gibb and Serin), as well as with Dr Yongliang Li and Professor Hanshan Dong, University of Birmingham.

Announcing the 11 new projects in their programme, EPSRC pointed out that heating is one of the largest contributors to carbon emissions – nearly 13% of UK carbon emissions are associated with fossil fuel home heating greenhouse gases. The Minster for Climate Change, Lord Callanan, described the research projects as ‘breaking new ground’ and said: “Today’s funding package will accelerate the development of low-carbon technologies that will both reduce emissions, and ensure people’s homes are warmer, greener and cheaper to run”.

CaCHE welcomes this opportunity to work closely in an interdisciplinary collaboration with our colleagues from engineering science. A grant of £1.1 million will deliver a project that aims to address challenges to the wider use of air source heat pumps (ASHPs) as a cost-effective, renewable source of energy for heating in UK homes. Most ASHPs have a relatively low heat production temperature, unlike gas boilers designed for high temperature heat supply. Their capacity and efficiency can also drop dramatically as ambient air temperature falls. They also need to be defrosted in cold temperatures. They are also expensive to build with low public awareness of their potential.

The new project seeks to develop an efficient, flexible ASHP, which will be capable of continuous heating during frosting, energy-efficient defrosting and operating at different modes to benefit from off-peak electricity or warm air during daytime. Alongside this product development work, CaCHE will deliver a workstream that seeks to understand the economic and social barriers that inhibit the breakthrough or at-scale development of ASHP as part of the retrofit of domestic energy in our housing (new and existing stocks) – and what key lessons emerge for how this can be overcome.

This is in part an industrial economics problem but also about socio-technical innovation and understanding how to facilitate technological transition from one way of doing things to another. This will involve all stakeholders in the process: R&D, manufacturing, the construction industry, installation and maintenance, government and public agencies as well as assessing consumer behaviour on the demand side. We also recognise that such investments for property owners may complement and be inextricably linked to fabric-based retrofit of properties (that can further add to the benefits of new low carbon heating systems).

CaCHE will also lead on the knowledge exchange effort drawing on our emerging retrofit networks as well as our established housing evidence hubs around the UK. We see this project as further developing our growing interest in housing, climate change and green retrofit, which already includes our Scottish Funding Council project evaluating a demonstration project concerned with traditional tenemental retrofit, as well as a project within our raising private renting standards programme (funded by The Dispute Service Charitable Foundation and Safe Deposit Scotland Charitable Trust) on scoping out the regulatory changes seeking to raise the energy efficiency of all private rented units across the UK. A key feature of this work collectively is the embracing of cross-disciplinary boundaries and forging new partnerships within and outside of academia and we think the FASHION project on ASHPS exemplifies this evolution in the breadth and nature of the work CaCHE can do.

 
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Date: June 1, 2021 10:57 am

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