Solar technology has been in the vanguard of the UK’s shift towards a decarbonised, decentralised energy system for years. Photovoltaic panels are an immediately recognisable indicator that a household has made the first big step to greener living, and the rooftops of the UK have been changed forever. Those panels are now found on one in every 25 buildings.
We have proved to be a nation of solar enthusiasts, but the job is very far from done. There is still an enormous, untapped opportunity for even more solar-powered renewable energy generation in this country.
In many ways there is an obligation too. The built environment contributes a staggering 40% of the UK’s carbon emissions. Unless we can heat and power all our buildings – homes, offices, schools and hospitals – in a radically different way, the government’s target of reaching net zero carbon by 2050 will prove completely undeliverable.
But at the Active Building Centre, we believe we can be even more ambitious, and look beyond a zero-emission goal for the UK’s housing stock. Let’s have homes that are no longer a liability on the national emissions balance sheet, but are assets instead.
Unsurprisingly, solar will again have a crucial role to play in this next stage of the energy transition. The industry already promotes battery storage and smart systems that manage and optimise energy consumption, working alongside those photovoltaic cells. This matches our vision of how the best future homes will look: ultra-flexible, energy-efficient buildings with electrified heating, electric vehicle charging points and battery storage, all integrated into an intelligent system. We call those Active buildings, and they will be an important part of all our futures. Indeed, they will set the very standard for all our future homes.
Importantly, however, an Active home also has the ability to redistribute energy back into the grid, depending on the smart system calculating when is best to store surplus energy and when is best to sell it. This earns a return for the homeowner and, applied on a national scale, converts the UK’s housing stock into a network of millions of decentralised renewable power stations. Excitingly, those personal power stations can come in many forms – wind and hydrogen can play their roles – but solar will be a critical part of this energy mix.
Solar is an exemplar of how many of the technologies that will power Active homes are already proven and available off the shelf. Others, like the new generation of heat pumps that our engineers are working on, will continue to be refined and upgraded.
Our job at the Active Building Centre is to show how these different technologies can be affordably and effectively integrated into smart and self-sufficient energy systems. And as Active homes become the norm, the energy make-up of the UK will be radically transformed – with those glorious solar cells dotting even more of our roofs.