New ‘observatory’ to uncover energy-efficiency improvements in Sheffield

The University of Sheffield will enlist sensors, thermal cameras, drones and balloons to scan the surrounding city for ways to monitor environmental impacts, improve energy savings and reduce heat loss.

Researchers at the University of Sheffield’s new £1.8m Urban Flows Observatory will use innovative methods to scan the city and create a model of Sheffield’s energy and resource usage. The resulting model will then be used to advise the council and town planners on how to enhance distributed energy across the city and where solar projects can be implemented effectively.

The Urban Flows Observatory’s co-director and Department of Civil and Structural Engineering professor Martin Mayfield said: “Around 80% of the UK’s energy and resources are used by our cities. By analysing these energy and resource flows, we will be able to advise councils and town planners on issues such as how to raise productivity or save energy and reduce heat loss across the city. In the future, we plan to look at other aspects such as air pollution and other social indicators.”

The Observatory is part of a wider network of UK Urban Observatories, with facilities also located in Newcastle and Bristol. In total, 14 universities are working to address infrastructure development issues as part of the UK Collaboratorium for Research in Infrastructure and Cities (UKCRIC).

Handling the heat

One of the key issues that the Observatory, which was funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), hopes to identify solutions for is the need to reduce energy and heat losses in buildings.

A trial of heat meters in 227 council homes in Sheffield cut heating bills by approximately £238 per house in 2015, and the council is hoping to develop further ways to enhance savings. The model produced by the Observatory will create a detailed analysis of the material stocks found in Sheffield, the energy embodied within them, and how this energy is distributed or lost across the city.

This model could identify potential building stock solutions for Sheffield to drive home energy improvements. In the European Union, for example, the building stock emits more one-third of CO2 emissions, and three-quarters of buildings are deemed inefficient, despite up to four-fifths still set to be in use in 2050.

The Observatory’s co-director Dr Danielle Densley Tingley added: “One of the things the observatory seeks to understand is what Sheffield is made of. A detailed understanding of material use in the stock, when combined with an understanding of energy use and heat loss, will enable strategic retrofit across the city, facilitate planning decisions and support material salvage on buildings scheduled for demolition.”

The University of Sheffield boasts some impressive global research partners and clients including Unilever, Siemens and Rolls-Royce – that latter of which is currently exploring the potential benefits of flexible energy generation.

Matt Mace

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