Blog: A Model Approach

By Sharon Bishop 20 July 2015

“Building low carbon homes is generally perceived to be costly and difficult in the current economic climate. We are using market technologies that are affordable, available off the shelf and from our local supply chain. The innovation is in integrating all these systems together as well as into the architectural design.”  Ester Coma-Bassas, architect

The SOLCER House is the UK’s first energy positive house, capable of exporting more energy to the national grid than it consumes. Based on SPECIFIC’s ‘Buildings as Power Stations’ concept, the house was designed and built as part of the SOLCER project by Professor Phil Jones and his team from the Welsh School of Architecture.

A Smart House

The images show a beautiful house, resplendent in the Welsh sunshine and well-constructed by local suppliers. But behind all of that lies a concept that could change the face of energy.
The clever bit is not so much the building itself, which uses affordable components that are already available from existing suppliers, as the way those components are put together.

No, what’s really smart about this house is invisible to the eye: it is the bespoke energy model underlying the design. The model was developed by architect Ester Coma-Bassas, who is based at the Welsh School of Architecture and funded by SPECIFIC through the EPSRC and the Welsh Government-funded Sêr Cymru Solar project.

“The design of the SOLCER House was a big challenge because, instead of using the traditional approach where the design and aesthetics of the building are the most important thing, I also needed to focus on the performance of the building.”

Designed with computer models

Ester’s model combines, for the first time, a renewable energy supply that is fully integrated into the building structure, along with thermal and electrical energy storage, and reduced energy demand.

It is detailed: as well as the usual parameters such as location and type of building and renewable specifications, it incorporates energy storage components and factors such as the environmental attitude of the occupants and cost of components.

This makes it more realistic and enables critical choices to be made early in the design phase. For example, whilst it would technically be possible to build a completely off-grid zero-carbon house, the cost would be prohibitive. Instead, the SOLCER house only uses energy from its renewables 70% of the time, either directly or from storage. For the other 30% it takes energy from the grid.  Over the course of a year, however, the house energy export to import ratio is 1.75 – so for every 1kWh it uses from the grid when there is little solar energy available, it exports 1.75kWh to the grid during sunny weather.

The journey doesn’t stop here

Concepts like this will be crucial in addressing the energy trilemma of affordability, security of supply and carbon emissions.

As Prof Phil Jones says: “Now the house has been built our key task is to ensure that all of the measures that we have put in place are monitored to ensure the most energy efficient use.
We will use this information to inform future projects with the aim of ensuring that Wales remains at the heart of the development of a zero carbon housing future.”

SPECIFIC’s CEO Kevin Bygate adds: “Our next move at a building level will be interconnected buildings, which can share energy. Imagine that you go on holiday for a week and leave your house to generate and sell the energy while you’re away. That is not too difficult to do using the Internet of Things. The journey doesn’t stop here.”

In June the SOLCER House won Cardiff University’s Innovation and Impact Award for Innovation in Sustainability.  That same month, Ester received Constructing Excellence Wales’ Young Achiever of the Year Award, and a nomination for the national Constructing Excellence awards later in the year.  Her journey continues, too.


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