X Close

UCL Energy Institute Blog


Blogs by staff & students of the UCL Energy Institute


An experimental book swap

By Sofie L J Pelsmakers, on 23 January 2015


The second book edition of The Environmental Design Pocketbook is out and it includes updated research, guidance and new legislation (such as the new Building Regulations and the new RIBA Plan of Work) alongside an extended retrofit chapter and new sections on the performance gap, and the influence of building maintenance and care and commissioning of buildings on their energy performance and how to achieve good building maintenance, the need for which I have also written about elsewhere.

In total, an additional 80 pages are included in the 2nd edition, making the book now almost 500 pages. As a result the decision was made to print on thinner FSc sourced paper and not thicker recycled paper as for edition 1 to minimise the impact of the additional pages. It also has a flexible back now which means that navigating the book and leaving it open is so much easier! Despite the increased production costs, we managed to keep the cost of the 2nd edition as the same as the first edition (£25) due to generous sponsorship from ECD architects. (more…)

Would you let your energy supplier turn off your heating?

By Michael J Fell, on 8 December 2014

Mike Fell gives the background to a recent co-authored paper which explores what people think about efforts to influence when they use electricity.

What does it mean to be “in control” in relation to energy? And why does it matter? It’s perhaps easier to begin with the second question.

The subject of electricity blackouts has been big in the news recently. While the risk of blackouts is low, the continuing closure of older coal-powered generators means that there is less and less spare capacity on the grid to meet peaks in electricity demand.

Sameer Vasta_cropOne way to increase capacity is build more generators. Another is reduce demand, or attempt to alter the timing of demand to avoid getting such high peaks. The latter (known as demand-side response or DSR) can be achieved in a number of ways, such as by charging a higher price per unit of electricity at peak times (like in Economy 7). Alternatively, a signal can be sent directly to technology (such as fridges or electric heating systems) in people’s homes telling it to use more or less electricity at certain times.

Demand-side response can only be effective if enough people decide to take part, so that enough demand for electricity (or “load”) can be moved around in time. However, research into what people think about it (and some press coverage) suggest that this wide participation is by no means assured. One of the key concerns expressed is around “loss of control”, where some third party attempts to influence (or even directly control) people’s electricity use.

It is important to understand this concern if DSR programmes are to be designed in such a way that people want to take part. So what does it actually mean to be “in control” in relation to energy, and how do people think this might change under different ways of doing DSR?

We held group discussions with people we expected to have different experiences of control in relation to energy. Some had gas central heating (with comparatively high individual control of heating) while some had district heating (their heating was externally controlled – they didn’t have room thermostats). Some were already on a time of use electricity tariff. The anonymous quotes in the rest of this post come from these groups.

Rather than there being a simple idea of “control over energy”, a number of different dimensions of control emerged:

  • Control over the services that energy provides us with (and which lead to comfort, e.g. heat, light, etc.).
  • Control over timing, or the feeling of being able to do things when you want.
  • Control over how much you spend on energy.
  • A general sense of control and independence in one’s life (autonomy).

When people thought about different ways of doing DSR, these dimensions of control were all affected in different ways. Often with time of use pricing people felt they would have more control over spending (‘you have got some more control cause you can look at the, “oh right OK let’s put the washing machine on now”’), but less flexibility in when they did things and potentially over comfort.

This was especially true of “dynamic” time of use pricing, where electricity prices can be different every day – unlike tariffs such as Economy 7 which remain the same week after week. Such dynamic tariffs allow the possibility of making the most of variable wind generation, but were thought (by people in the groups) to be problematic due to their unpredictable nature and the extent to which people would be reliant on automation to make the most of them (‘We’re not robots!’).

In the case of direct control of technology, some people were worried about overall loss of autonomy – a sort of “Big Brother” scenario (‘That means they’re controlling your life basically’). Others weren’t so concerned about this so long as it happened in the background and allowed them to get on with their lives as they chose (‘If it’s … something that happens in the background and doesn’t actually affect your usage … for me personally I don’t think I have an issue with them controlling it’).

These results suggest some challenges for DSR. How to retain the attractive sense of control over spending that time of use pricing offers, while minimizing worries about flexibility? Perhaps personalizing tariffs to households’ individual circumstances could hold the key. In the case of direct control of technology there are certainly people who are implacably against this form of external influence, while others may happily accept it under the right conditions (e.g. with the possibility to override it). But these conditions must strike a balance between acceptability and the aim of getting demand reductions with appropriate speed, duration and reliability.

The findings also suggest the usefulness of looking at control in a systematic way. Indeed, this approach has informed our subsequent research which used a representative survey of Great Britain to find out more about people’s preferences for different DSR electricity tariffs. We hope to post more on the findings of this work soon.

Read the full paper here: Exploring perceived control in domestic electricity demand-side response, Michael J. Fell, David Shipworth, Gesche M. Huebner & Clifford A. Elwell, published in Technology Analysis & Strategic Management volume 26, issue 10, 2014.

Tags: demand-side response, time of use tariffs, direct load control, perceived control, electricity, domestic

Photo: “Happy Show” (cropped) by Sameer Vasta under a Creative Commons licence.

Retrofit in practice: what next?

By Sofie L J Pelsmakers, on 28 November 2014

Retrofit in practice: what next?1

This year the 11th International Architectural Humanities Research Association conference was hosted at Newcastle University and focused on ‘Industries of Architecture’, aiming to bring together architectural theorists, historians and designers to discuss the industrial, technical and socio-economic contexts in which the production of building takes place in the present day.

I was invited to chair a 3 hour Retrofit in practice: what next?workshop on November 14th and I invited Dr David Kroll to co-chair our inter-disciplinary workshop. We opened our workshop up to submission of abstracts and ‘position statements’ and based on these submissions we invited a diverse group of 12 architectural practitioners, researchers, conservationists, lecturers and theorists to lead the workshop content and debate. You can read more about our contributors here (and in due course presentations will be uploaded). We also managed to obtain generous sponsorship from Saint-Gobain and from ECD architects.

Our workshop was set against the background of the UK’s ~ 26.7 million existing dwellings (DECC, 2012) and ~ 1.8 million non-domestic buildings (UKGBC, 2011). The energy use of housing alone, which is mostly used to keep people warm in their homes (Palmer, 2011), contributes to about 1/3rd of the UK’s carbon emissions (DECC, 2011). Hence there is a real urgency to reduce this energy use in buildings; while this will also increase thermal comfort of occupants and helps people out of fuel poverty.

This brings with it a whole host of challenges, but also opportunities and this is what we really tried to capture in our workshop. Our workshop presenters touched on key issues that are related to the retrofit challenge, such as: the need for aesthetic upgrades as part of building maintenance when buildings meet or exceed their intended lifespan; lack of on-site skills to undertake robust building upgrades; the need for project management, assessment methods, new models and tools and different procurement routes. There was also a focus on performance testing, community benefits of upgrades and dangers of ill-conceived or executed retrofits, leading to unintended technical and aesthetic consequences.

It also became clear from discussion that terms such as ‘retrofitting’, ‘conservation’ and ‘heritage’ have overlaps but are not clearly defined at the moment.

For example what do we mean by conservation and heritage? What is the value in listed buildings we are trying to protect, is it the entire building or a specific aspect? And, if it is only part of a building that is ‘valued’, perhaps listed building consent – considered a barrier to upgrading buildings – may not be necessary at all?

Co-chair Dr David Kroll at the ‘Retrofit in Practice – what next?’ workshop

Co-chair Dr David Kroll

What do we mean by retrofitting? Does retrofit mean just adding, or changing, or can it also mean taking away? Or any of these together? Does retrofitting include renewable technologies as add-ons such as solar panels on a roof? Or is retrofitting’s key concern the fabric upgrade?

Should we not touch a heritage building at all? Or is wrapping the building in a new protective, ‘conserving layer’ part of conservation, as it increases the durability of the building and retains, protects, ‘conserves’ its structure and purpose?

On the other hand, some argued, given the sheer scale and urgency of the task ahead for many buildings which are not listed, we might just need to “get the job done”. If millions of housing are not of any significant quality or aesthetic, can we use the need for sustainable retrofit as an opportunity to enhance the architectural quality of our buildings, while increasing occupant thermal comfort and reducing carbon emissions associated with space-heating energy?

It became clear that there is a huge opportunity, but that we also have a long way to go in the architecture community, evidenced by a quote from the Farrell review: “refurbishment and retrofitting had not been considered to be architectural issues, and these concerns still struggle to be accepted as legitimate by the architectural community” (Farrell, 2014).

 The workshop’s full summing up text can be found here.

 DECC 2011. DUKES – Domestic Energy Consumption in the UK 2011. In: DECC (ed.) Publication URN 11D/808 ed. London.

DECC 2012. Statistical release: Experimental Statistics; Estimates of home insulation levels in Great Britain: January 2012. In: CHANGE, D. O. E. C. (ed.). London: Department of Energy & Climate Change.

FARRELL, T. 2014. The Farrell Review of Architecture + the Built Environment In: DEPARTMENT FOR CULTURE, M. A. S. (ed.). London.

PALMER, J., COOPER, I. 2011. Great Britain’s Housing Energy fact file – 2011. DECC.

UKGBC 2011. Uk-GBC Task Group Report on Carbon Emissions in Existing Non-Domestic Buildings. In: UKGBC (ed.).


90% of electricity is consumed by buildings – Case study in HK and what the government did

By ucqbkhp, on 7 March 2014

Blog by Ivan Poon, UCL-Energy student

Probably we already knew that buildings account for a significant amount of global energy (~40%) and around 33% of the greenhouse gas (GHG) emission. However, building accounts for an even higher proportion of carbon emission in some urbanized cities, such as Hong Kong.

In September of every year, the Electrical and Mechanical Services Department (EMSD) of HKSAR Government publishes the report on Hong Kong Energy End-use and from the latest report in 2013, it is noted that the electricity consumption by buildings kept rising and accounts for 92% of the citywide electricity consumption. *(please note that the report only shows the city’s energy consumption of 2 years ago, i.e. it is the energy consumption of 2011 in 2013 report)

electricity consumption in HK - 2011

Fig. 1 Electricity consumption in HK in 2001 and 2011 (source: EMSD – HKSAR Government)

The summary of the building energy consumption in Hong Kong in 2011 are as follow:
•    The energy consumption of the whole city kept rising for 4 consecutive years and it is highest among these 10 years (278,618 TJ);
•    Buildings consume for 92% of the total electricity used, while it is only 86% in 2001;
•    The energy consumption in HK by commercial buildings to residential buildings is in a portion of around 2.5:1; and
•    If taking other use of fossil fuels into account, buildings in HK consumes 63% of the total energy use, while it is 54% in 2001.
As Hong Kong is a city without much industrial activities, it is understandable that why buildings take such a large portion of energy in the city. But it is still unforgivable that the energy consumption kept rising in the recent decade, when “sustainable development” is emphasized.

The Government is actually aware of such situation and therefore, they are trying to implement different policies in recent years, while the Building Energy Efficiency Ordinance (BEEO) is the key policy among all.
Building Energy Efficiency Ordinance (BEEO)
Building energy related policies in my opinion can be mainly categorized in 3 groups:
•    Overview roadmaps and targets (Sustainable Blueprint in Singapore)
•    Compliance regulations and building energy codes (Building Energy Efficiency Ordinance in Hong Kong)
•    Market instruments (Carbon Cap-and-trade policy in Tokyo)
Building Energy Efficiency Ordinance (BEEO in short) belongs to the second category and was just being implemented since 21st September 2012 in Hong Kong. It mainly comprises of 2 parts:
1.    Building Energy Code (BEC) – for those newly constructed commercial buildings or they would like to undergo a major retrofit, they have to comply with the requirements as stated in BEC. For example, offices can only have 15 W/m2 lighting power density at maximum.
2.    Energy Audit Code (EAC) – Owners of existing commercial buildings have to hire Registered Energy Assessors (REA) to perform energy audits for their buildings. They are performed in stages according to the age of buildings (Newest buildings are the 1st batch and they must do the audit in the 1st year after the policy is implemented). A certificate (only showing that you complied with the ordinance, not ratings on the certificate) will be issued afterwards and is valid for 10 years.

Why commercial buildings?
1.    The energy consumption in HK by commercial buildings to residential buildings is in a portion of 2.5:1, so larger energy saving potential for commercial buildings.
2.    The ownership and tenancy of commercial buildings is easier to deal with.
What is the significance of this policy?
1.    The maximum requirements for BEC would restrain the energy consumption by the new commercial buildings.
2.    EAC would provide valuable detailed energy data to the government for their policy intervention.
1.    There are many old buildings in HK, as the EAC requires them to fill in detailed information, e.g. efficiency of the chillers, they might not have the records for that.

Now you may argue that the Building Energy Efficiency Ordinance (BEEO) is just being enforced from 21 September 2012 and BEAM Plus (the building environment assessment system, just like LEED) is getting more popular over the years, the energy consumption will begin to drop starting from 2012 or 2013. However, the existing building owners just have to provide their energy data according to BEEO and only the BEAM Plus for new buildings is getting popular due to the GFA concession policy, there should be more to do to reduce the energy consumption by existing buildings.

In long term, the Government can consider the followings:
•    Setting up a comprehensive green building campaign (e.g. Greener Greater Buildings Plan in New York City) and strict targets of energy reduction; and
•    Investigate the possibility in the implementation of a Carbon Cap-and-Trade System for the buildings, just like what the Tokyo Metropolitan Government did.

For the whole report of Hong Kong Energy End-use Data 2013, please visit the following website:
More information of BEEO is available by this website: