Pathways to Net Zero-ready home retrofit scrutinised by government-funded research programme

  • Homes for Net Zero is a research programme funded by the Department of Energy Security and Net Zero and delivered by Energy Systems Catapult, E.ON, University College London, and Oxford University.
  • The programme aims to identify options for homeowners to decarbonise their homes by testing practical solutions.
  • A combination of in-home data monitoring and consumer research will help measure the impact of these measures on consumers and their homes.

The Department of Energy Security and Net Zero (DESNZ) has launched a research programme, led by Energy Systems Catapult, in partnership with E.ON, University College London (UCL), and Oxford University to test practical solutions that can overcome barriers to home retrofit in an effort to reduce carbon emissions.

The UK’s residential sector accounted for 23% of CO2 emissions in 2020. In England alone, there are approximately 14 million owner-occupied homes who rely on gas central heating, equating to 57% of all homes. To achieve Net Zero by 2050, domestic properties will need to make the switch to a decarbonised heating source.

“Decarbonising the UK’s domestic building stock is arguably one of the biggest, most urgent challenges we face as we transition to Net Zero”, said Rebecca Sweeney, Business Leader – Homes at Energy Systems Catapult. “Consumer demand for low carbon alternatives and energy efficiency measures is rising. Despite this, many are confronted with high costs and complex decision making.”

To gain valuable real-world insight, the programme will use Energy Systems Catapult’s Living Lab – currently made up of over 2,500 homes across the UK – and its existing supporting digital infrastructure to recruit and monitor energy use in participating homes. Homes for Net Zero will have a notable focus on owner-occupied, solid wall, gas-heated homes owing to the complexity of decarbonising such properties.

Phase One of the programme will see the project partners establish a monitoring project and gather evidence on the effectiveness of retrofit interventions that are low cost and low disruption  (draught proofing, loft insulation, heating efficiency improvements and behavioural measures) that are lacking in real world evidence.

The Catapult, E.ON, UCL, and Oxford University will implement and measure the impact from retrofit interventions in a selected number of Living Lab homes. Using a real world test environment and a combination of in-home monitoring data (such as smart meter, air quality, and boiler output temperature data) and participant surveys and interviews, the project partners will build a quantifiable picture of some of the solutions to home retrofit, the likelihood of acceptance and the willingness of participants to engage with solutions.

This holistic view will shape DESNZ’s understanding of the options for homeowners to transition to a low carbon home while providing consumers with appealing and viable options for doing so, in the form of net zero roadmaps.

Rebecca Sweeney said:

“The UK has a reputation for cold, leaky, inefficient homes. The Homes for Net Zero project aims to understand how we can best help retrofit for Net Zero. By using a combination of quantitative and qualitative data, we can build a picture of real-world energy use and consumer behaviour to give a clear picture of how consumers use energy and the impact the fabric of their property has on this consumption.

“Working alongside notable academic institutions and energy providers, we’re getting to the heart of enabling retrofit and identifying ways we can support consumers on this journey, in a in a way that doesn’t compromise on comfort.”

Chris Norbury, E.ON UK Chief Executive, said:

“We’ve consistently said the greener choice should be the cheaper choice because we know that better homes are cheaper to run, they are healthier and more comfortable to live in, and by producing lower emissions they have less impact on our planet.

“Our aim with this project and our partners is to further understand how we can encourage and inspire customers, particularly those in harder to treat properties, to make those greener choices and make their homes fit for a more sustainable future.”

Simon Elam, Director of the Smart Energy Research Lab, University College London, said: 

“It is clear that small, incremental, and low-cost measures will be important steps on the path to net zero for many homes across the UK. We are pleased to be working with the Energy Systems Catapult and other partners to deliver this project which will provide vital evidence to inform policy and facilitate innovation.”

Philipp Grunewald, Senior Researcher, Oxford University, said: 

“We are excited to work with this team of leading experts to develop a scientifically rigorous evidence base for the effectiveness of retrofit measures. Having quantitative real-world data of energy savings is a major advance for the industry and will help us support policies that accelerate decarbonisation and reduce household’s energy costs for years to come.”

For more information on the project, upcoming activities and project outputs please visit our project page.

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