How can we achieve optimal energy reduction for residential areas? In the coming years, the Aarhus University will provide research for READY – the historically large EU project. This photo is taken from the top of the Navitas Building looking towards Aarhus.
With a large European Commission grant researchers are going to explore new solutions to how housing areas can reduce energy consumption.
With a total investment of DKK 144 million, the European Union is now focusing massively on a demonstration project that aims to determine how to reduce as well as possible the overall energy consumption in private households in a residential area.
The project involves 1,000 houses and apartments in the city of Aarhus, which in the coming years will function as a full-scale laboratory for researchers at the Department of Engineering.
Entire neighbourhoods as energy laboratories
It is currently possible to calculate how individual households and private consumers can conserve the most energy. However, very little is known about what works best if the aim is to reduce CO2 emission in an entire housing area.
The researchers will use the large grant to find answers to this overall question. They are now moving out of the laboratories and will spend the next three years establishing the largest ever full-scale experimental set-up, consisting of several suburban streets and apartment blocks.
This is a crucial step towards acquiring the necessary knowledge to create the intelligent energy supply of the future, according to Assistant Professor Steffen Petersen who is the energy specialist on the project.
“We need to think more holistically and look at ways to optimally reduce energy consumption in entire residential areas and not just in individual households. We must go all the way round and consider behavioural consumption, materials for energy renovation and new technology for energy storage in homes. As researchers, we now have a great chance to put our knowledge into play in real circumstances and thereby demonstrate how to convert to sustainable energy as well and economically as possible in an existing housing area,” he says.
The project is called READY and it involves more than 1,000 households in Aarhus, as well as approximately 30,000 square metres of multi-family houses in Sweden. The Department of Engineering will carry out energy analyses and identify the potential for energy savings and a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. At the same time, several private companies are involved in the project because the hope is to develop new technologies with commercial potential.
The optimal mix for green cities
One of the project’s greatest challenges is to handle the surplus production of electricity from sustainable energy sources such as solar and wind power. The researchers will therefore demonstrate how to manage the supply and demand of electricity on a neighbourhood scale.
They will also study whether the energy renovation of homes is possible so that district heating suppliers can lower the flow temperature.
“In reality, the energy renovation of residential areas is a jungle. Nobody really knows the optimal combination of efforts. What is most worthwhile – adding 10 centimetres of extra insulation to the houses, establishing heat pumps or investing in smart control of electricity consumption so that it matches energy accessibility as well as possible? Naturally we’ve got some theoretically well-founded hypotheses, but there’s no evidence-based foundation to say how to achieve optimal energy reduction,” says Assistant Professor Petersen.
Approximately nine out of ten households in the European Union need energy renovation in the course of the coming decades if the member states are to live up to the target of fossil-free energy supply.
New model for energy renovation
One of the aims of the READY project is therefore to design a universal model that can be used to calculate optimal energy renovation efforts for neighbourhoods with specific issues throughout Europe.
“Nowadays, we’re seeing a trend towards trying to save on energy in all ways possible. Our expectations are that we need to make greater efforts in connection with using energy when it’s available and building small energy stores in our homes. We now have a unique opportunity to try out our hypotheses in full-scale demonstration trials,” says Project Manager Peter Harling Lykke who is the administrative manager of READY at Aarhus University.
The researchers will carry out experiments such as converting food waste to biogas by installing kitchen waste disposal units in the households involved, and using electric car batteries to store power in houses.
Energy reduction for residential areas