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The University of Southampton

Solar power helps cut electricity bills and reduce fuel poverty

Published: 21 June 2004

A University of Southampton research project involving rooftop solar photovoltaic panels on housing association properties has helped tenants reduce their bills and learn more about sustainable energy.

The new houses in Kyoto Walk and Kyoto Terrace in Havant, have been designed and built by the Hermitage Housing Association, following an initiative by Havant Borough Council, to be as energy-efficient as possible.

The Sustainable Energy Group at the University's School of Civil Engineering and the Environment gained funding for the electricity generating system through the DTI's Domestic Field Trial for Photovoltaics initiative (DFT2). The scheme has won an EcoHomes assessment rating of 'Excellent' and will be monitored to evaluate its success and develop the concept further.

Dr AbuBakr Bahaj of the Sustainable Energy Research Group devised the photovoltaic systems for the nine houses. Electricity for the properties was generated in daylight hours by the rooftop panels and power was obtained from the National Grid when required. Results revealed that if 80 per cent of solar-generated electricity was used within the home, annual savings of £132 could be achieved.

Indirect benefits of the photovoltaic system included tenants' increased awareness of renewable energy, energy efficiency and the advisability of using high-demand appliances such as washing machines and dishwashers at the peak of the solar day instead of during the evening.

Dr Bahaj said, "Tenants are often unaware of the huge differences in electricity consumption between appliances and the way they can reduce electricity demand by managing appliance usage.

"This project has been enlightening, because it brings both engineers and the technology users together, facilitating a focus on energy consumption and generation. In this project the tenants adopted a positive attitude to the technology and, since the monitoring period started, their behaviour and habits are being challenged to save energy. In addition for many tenants, especially low-income families, fuel bills can be a major source of worry. The Government has a programme to alleviate fuel poverty and in social housing solar photovoltaics can play an important role to achieve this goal."

Colleague Dr Patrick James added, "It has been very instructive to work with the tenants to try and understand their energy usage profiles. The study has highlighted the importance of providing clear and concise information concerning both electricity usage and photovoltaic technology. In this way, the generation of electricity by photovoltaics can lead to further energy savings from a better appreciation of energy usage as a whole."

Havant BC Home Energy Conservation Officer, Paul Hemming, said, "We want this project to show the way forward, not to be a one-off, money-no-object showcase. It will demonstrate how new homes can be developed according to principles of sustainability, encourage this practice in future housing developments, and raise awareness of what can be achieved through a more thoughtful approach to how we construct and occupy our buildings."

Hermitage Housing Association Development Project Manager John Fifield commented, "We were pleased to promote and develop in practical ways all forms of energy saving devices in our properties. This partnership with the University and Havant Borough Council has been particularly beneficial in raising awareness of the issues and informing our tenants."

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Notes for editors

  1. Solar photovoltaics has been described as the energy-producing technology of the future. It converts sunlight into electricity without any intervening or moving parts and without polluting the atmosphere.
  2. The University of Southampton is a leading UK teaching and research institution with a global reputation for leading-edge research and scholarship. The University has over 19,200 students and 4,800 staff and plays an important role in the City of Southampton. Its annual turnover is in the region of £250 million.
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