Photovoltaics (PV) convert solar energy into direct current electricity using semiconducting materials that exhibit the photovoltaic effect. A typical system employs solar panels composed of a number of solar cells to supply usable solar power and the technology has long been valued as a clean, sustainable energy source across the globe.
UK housing associations are now adopting this technology on a large scale and PV have become the most popular choice of sustainable technology for UK housing associations, according to a new report by the NHBC Foundation, with around three quarters saying they would use PV products again in the future.
The social housing sector generally constructs new homes to higher levels than those specified by the government’s ‘Code for Sustainable homes’ – the environmental assessment method for rating and certifying the performance of new homes in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. As a result it has been at the forefront of the adoption of different types of energy efficiency technologies and water-saving features. The NHBC Foundation primary research report Sustainable Technologies – The Experience of Housing Associations identifies technologies that have worked well and those that have given rise to concerns.
The research found that almost two-thirds of housing associations surveyed said they had experience of at least one type of sustainable technology. Based on their experiences, the most popular option for use again in the future is PV (75%), and between 50 and 60% of housing associations say that they would expect to use MVHR (mechanical ventilation and heat recovery) and solar thermal hot water in the future.
Water-saving technologies have also been widely used with low-flush toilets and low-flow taps and showers becoming standard in new homes. Three-quarters of housing associations expect to use these again.
With just one year to go before the Government’s 2016 zero carbon home target, the report is aimed at helping the wider house-building industry make better-informed choices on sustainable technology. Other key findings include:
- Two-thirds of housing associations said the main reason for choosing which specific technology to install was the up-front cost of installation and maintenance costs.
- Inadequate installation was one of the biggest issues, with two-thirds of housing associations experiencing problems.
- 43% of those surveyed said that benefitting tenants and reducing fuel poverty was one of their biggest drivers.
- 81% perceived that residents had benefitted from reduced energy bills, and almost a quarter cited better air quality.
The report found that there has been a relative lack of monitoring of performance of sustainable technologies and more research is needed to confirm good choices. It also notes that ‘fabric-first’ approaches are becoming widely established but they will not be sufficient on their own to meet zero carbon new homes targets and that energy efficient technologies will have to be used in addition.
Neil Smith, head of research and innovation at NHBC, said: “Much progress has been made by the house-building industry to address environmental issues, particularly in relation to improving energy and water efficiency. This research is aimed at helping the wider house-building industry and others to make better-informed choices.”
Let’s hope that these improved energy and water efficiencies will take us ever closer to the Government’s 2016 zero carbon home target.
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