Author: Eleni Davidson
The brand new ERBE CDT kicked off on the 23rd September, initiated by the very first cohort of PhD students coming together for an introductory week away in Loughborough. The week acted as an opportunity for a highly multidisciplinary team to get to know one another before starting this exciting new venture together. It was amazing to see such a diverse group of individuals brought together by a mutual interest in future energy systems and the built environment. From physicists and engineers to architects to anthropologists, together our varied backgrounds lay across all ranges of the socio-technical spectrum. It quickly became evident that the years ahead of us would offer many opportunities to benefit from a great breadth of knowledge and skills.
The week began with an introduction to the ‘global context’, focusing on the bigger picture of energy in the built environment. A historical perspective helped to provide background to the existing challenges we face, studying fundamental, underlying concepts such as the evidence of climate change and its relationship with fossil fuels. We also looked at the key drivers of change over the past thousands of years, such as rising population trends and the industrial revolutions. Further insight into the current situation and possible future scenarios helped us to gain a deeper understanding of energy resilience at a global scale, in terms of the size, state of supply, state of demand and where the need for radical change lies.
The group went on to explore the multifaceted complexities involved in domestic energy, focusing on demand, supply and socio-technical implications. It was fascinating hearing the many weird and wonderful stories that ensued from research in domestic environments, such as the unusual motivations behind the ‘rebound’ effect (one involving a thermostat and a bag of frozen peas!). On a site visit to oversee the construction of a large cluster of newly built residential dwellings, we were able to observe some of the fundamental practices for energy saving in domestic households. This was really useful in putting theory to practice, learning some of the tricks of the trade when it comes to maintaining low U-values, high ventilation rates and dealing with the wet weather conditions for which we gained first-hand experience!
Having grasped the domestic sector, we then shifted to the world of non-domestic and industrial energy demand. Although an impossible subject to sum up in a day or two, the vast discrepancies of non-domestic building types and functions were presented to us, with differences in load profiles and energy uses highlighted. Through close inspection of boiler and ventilation systems within a hotel, we were able to see many of the mechanisms involved in action and fully understand the complex functioning of ventilation and heating and cooling systems in non-domestic buildings.
Throughout the week we also worked in teams to formulate a plan for the energy system pathway to 2050, utilising the UK’s Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) 2050 Modeller. This activity, along with taught sessions on the future of demand reduction and control strategies, helped to better our understanding of the highly interdependent nature of the factors contributing towards an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
As the first year to participate in the new collaboration of MaREI with UCL and Loughborough University, we felt encouraged by the taught experiences we had during the week. In particular, they allowed us to gain real, in-depth insight into the differences in energy systems, policies and building practices between the UK and Ireland. It was interesting to compare and contrast differentiating characteristics, such as population and housing stock sizes, non-domestic requirements and the prominence of critical issues such as fuel poverty. The new collaboration brought with it a highly multidisciplinary team of lecturers, which paralleled the backgrounds of the students. Over the course of the week we were taught by physicists, social scientists and even an expert in user centred design. The broad teaching reflected a message that was strongly conveyed: the pathway to decarbonisation requires a socio-technical system perspective achieved through the collaboration of disciplines.
By the end of the week, the first ever ERBE cohort felt connected as a team and keen to share questions, thoughts and ideas. We left feeling encouraged and inspired to make an impact on the state of future energy demand in the built environment, recognising the position of responsibility that we may all choose to embrace at such an important time.