The University of Southampton

Shut that door: Energy and cost saving in the UK’s non-domestic buildings

Published: 8 August 2014

Southampton researchers are aiming to improve energy efficiency, cut costs and reduce carbon emissions in the country’s non-domestic buildings.

Southampton is one of six universities (along with Imperial College London, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Oxford, and Strathclyde) which will share £3m funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), on behalf of the Research Councils UK Energy Programme (RCUKEP), and £1m from the Technology Strategy Board. The research will address how to use technology, data and information, mathematics and sociology to create better energy strategies and behaviours in public and private, non-domestic buildings.

Non-domestic buildings such as offices, supermarkets, hospitals and factories account for approximately 18 per cent of UK carbon emissions and 13 per cent of final energy consumption. Planning energy saving techniques and implementing change with the cooperation of building occupants is going to be essential.

The Southampton project, which was awarded £493,000 of funding, will examine how external sensors can be used to monitor how windows, blinds and lighting are used and how occupants’ needs, such as privacy, comfort and security, can be balanced with energy management.

Project leader Professor Patrick James, a Senior Lecturer in Engineering and the Environment at the University of Southampton, says: “In a domestic setting, a householder is directly responsible for the energy bills and would therefore not consciously leave a window open overnight in the winter. In an office environment however, there is no financial driver for people to behave in the same energy efficient manner. While there may be a strong reason to open a window in an office (stuffiness, high temperature), the driver to close the window (energy awareness) may be very weak unless there is an additional driver such as external noise, rain or a security risk.

“This poses a real challenge to the facilities manager, ‘happy productive users’ prefer control of the façade, which is what well designed non-domestic building environments should provide, but providing this control introduces significant energy performance risk.”

“Instrumenting existing buildings with additional physical sensors to monitor this user behaviour is often prohibitively expensive”, continues Professor Alex Rogers, a project co-investigator based in Electronics and Computer Sciences. “We hope to be able to provide useful feedback to a buildings occupants through webpages, ambient displays and smartphones, using a small number of low-cost visible and thermal cameras monitoring the exterior of the building.”

Professor Philip Nelson, EPSRC’s Chief Executive and former Pro Vice-Chancellor at the University of Southampton, adds: “Improving energy efficiency is an important piece of the energy puzzle. Worldwide energy demand is rising, as are global temperatures and sea levels. We need to find smart solutions to how we use energy while improving the environment in which people have to work, rest or play. These projects will go a long way to help improve our understanding of what goes on in non-domestic buildings and add to the armoury at the disposal of those managing these facilities.”

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