Affordable Homes with Affordable Energy

Constructing energy efficient affordable homes to suit National Building Standards is not easy in Orkney where assessment procedures do not favour  homes which are all electric. This, of course, is a bit of a nonsense when in Orkney we produce more electricity than we need with renewables.

This was the subject of a presentation at OREF (Orkney Renewable Energy Forum) on Tuesday 8th May 2018: Renewable energy technology in building construction.

It was solving just this sort of problem that saw a collaboration between Stephen Kemp of Orkney Builders Ltd and Mark Hamilton of SOLO Energy Ltd develop 2,3 and 4 bedroom homes at Grainbank, Kirkwall.

This is house building for the 21st Century: very well insulated and with battery storage that makes the best use of solar generated power. All operated by cloud based technology.

SOLO Energy has installed Tesla batteries in 30 of the homes at Grainbank. Solar panels, flush with the roof of the buildings, feed into the Tesla batteries. The panels are dark coloured so that they blend in. Indeed you may not even have noticed they are there. This is a ‘zero export’ system which means it does not export to the National Grid. This was a condition from SSEN  prior to the installation going ahead. SOLO pay for the batteries which would normally be a cost to the customer of between £5,000- £8,000.

Cloud technology, operated by SOLO, is used to manage the system: finding the best price for the customer and storing unused solar generated power within the battery – to be used when it is needed. The high building specifications means that the homes do not ‘leak’ heat as so many of our more traditionally built ones do. These are affordable homes, using renewable energy, battery storage and cloud technology to deliver electricity to the consumers home that is going to be saving them money compared to dwellings without this facility.

Orkney Builders Ltd employs about 80 people and currently have 12 apprentices. They have built many homes for Orkney Islands Council, Orkney Housing Association and privately. The problem for them and for all house builders in Orkney who are trying to make a difference is that the national standards for an EPC (Energy Performance Certificate) favour houses which insert gas boilers. Now, although that is common practice in the central belt, it is not an option in Orkney and particularly when we have all this renewable energy being generated. So much so that there are occasions when wind turbines are turned off simply because Orkney is producing too much and the National Grid simply cannot cope.

All this seems a bit crackers when Scotland is striving to utilise its natural renewable resources for energy production.

SOLO’s Mark Hamilton said:

“The problems we see in Orkney are going to happen everywhere as more renewables come on the Grid.” 

He went on to stress the two most important issues for him:

  • Energy storage
  • Flexibility

The Flexigrid Aggregations Platform which is the cloud based system he has designed  aggregates the assets. This means it uses a forecasting tool which monitors the prices of electricity and combines that with looking at what the Grid wants to do. There are peak times of usage, for example when people come in for tea – kettle goes on, devices on , dinner being cooked. This is also the time when the price paid will be highest. Batteries, storing up unused energy during the day, when most/all of the household is out, can then click into action. For the householder, you are not using Grid electricity but what you have stored up. When you don’t have sufficient stored up for your needs it will switch back to the Grid.

This concept is certainly an interesting way forward for Orkney and it is a great pity that National Building Standards in Scotland fail to recognise that our diverse geography means that not everywhere has access to gas.  Electricity generated by renewables in energy efficient houses is surely the way forward. It is time that this was recognised and developments, like Grainbank, given the official recognition they deserve.

Stephen Kemp and Mark Hamilton

Renewable energy technology in building construction

Reporter: Fiona Grahame


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