A state-of-the-art analysis facility in England needs to design the home of the long run


A view of Manchester, England, at night.

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In England, scientists are trying to create the home of the future by testing how different weather conditions affect energy consumption in homes and small buildings.

Construction is currently underway on a £ 16 million (US $ 21.07 million) facility that uses heating, ventilation and air conditioning to generate snow, sunlight, rain and wind in two "giant chambers".

Each of these chambers has two furnished houses at the University of Salford's Energy House 2.0 location. Scientists will be able to bring temperatures down to minus 20 degrees Celsius (minus 4 degrees Fahrenheit) or, at the other end of the spectrum, increase them to 40 degrees Celsius.

Homes will be equipped with a range of kits including smart meters and vehicle-to-grid technology. With so-called smart meters, consumers can see how much energy they are using and how much money they are spending. The University of Salford described the vehicle-to-grid system as a type of technology that "uses renewable energy stored in a car battery to push electricity back into the grid".

The future technology division of the electricity and gas supplier Octopus Energy will act as the main partner of the project. Among other things, it will supply the laboratory with renewable electricity.

Part of the funding for the program comes from the European Regional Development Fund. Work on the facility began last month, with the official launch this week.

The project's goals are nothing if not ambitious. In an announcement on Thursday, the University of Salford said Energy House 2.0 would "shape the homes of the future, bring the UK to net zero faster and help alleviate fuel poverty".

The university in North West England added that the facility would also provide insights into how insulation materials, smart energy products and batteries respond to different climates.

William Swan is the director of Energy House Laboratories at the university. In a statement, he said that controlled conditions meant experiments "could be repeated in ways that cannot be done outdoors".

"We can cut learning times from years to a few weeks," he added. "This type of ability enables us to support low carbon innovation in ways that are not possible elsewhere."

The project builds on previous research by the University of Salford team and is just one example of how organizations in the UK are working to make the built environment more sustainable.

In October it was announced that a local authority in the UK would be providing university researchers with a home to test low carbon technologies. The partnership between Hull City Council and the University of Hull in North East England will focus on the use of "combined ventilation and air source heat pump technology".

Information on heating and energy consumption in the house is collected over the course of a year. The project team analyzes the affordability and effectiveness of the technology.


Steven Gregory