Project Cygnus - exploring energy efficiency in housing

In early September, we described how we wanted to start our work on Project Cygnus - a collaboration with Icebreaker One - by beginning with the data. Project Cygnus is all about supporting regions and countries with a sustainable economic recovery after COVID19 that also accelerates Net Zero carbon goals. Part of our collaborative work is to explore and assess the data infrastructure that exists within the energy sector in the UK and Ireland. We began with something that fit within Project Cygnus' remit and something that also had data available - energy efficiency and retrofitting houses.

The team at ODI Leeds will look at energy performance in residential buildings (using Energy Performance Certificate data) and build tools that will allow us to do a few things:

  • assess the availability and quality of data relating to housing stock in UK and Ireland
  • explore the energy performance and capacity (and opportunities) for improvement in regions

An Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) is issued whenever a property is built, sold, or rented, and contains information about a property's energy use and typical energy costs with recommendations about how to improve energy efficiency. An EPC is graded from A (most efficient) to G (least efficient), and also usually colour coded as well. A Building Energy Rating certificate is the Irish equivalent and similarly uses an A-G grading system and comes with recommendations to improve the grade.

If you can find the areas (regions, localities, etc) that have the greatest potential to improve the energy efficiency of housing stock, it can be a benefit in two ways:

  • people can have more energy efficient homes (that perhaps use greener methods as well), which saves money and energy
  • new businesses, training, skills, etc, can grow up around the areas most in need, which boosts local and wider economies alike

Below is an initial idea for a prototype tool (it must be stated that this is just a concept and open to change).

Initial prototype idea
Credit: Amy Evans at ODI Leeds

The plan for working with the data is as follows:

  • retrieve the data for Scotland, England, Wales, Northern Ireland (EPC) and Ireland (BER)
  • map to standard geographies, aiming to use a similar size for each nation (i.e. wards vs local authorities vs LSOAs, etc)
  • investigate the ability to use some hierarchical geographies for deeper exploration of the data (so you can look at the data at a more granular level)
  • standardise the common measures for energy performance
  • enhance with other subject-specific measures, such as 'capacity for improvement'

We've got a good start looking at the EPC data in England and Wales, and the Irish BER data. The team has previously worked on projects in a similar scope with a local EPC explorer tool. We know there will be some challenges - working with geographies is always an interesting endeavour; we need the subject expertise for some of the energy performance measures; Scotland does not appear to have an openly available, bulk dataset of EPCs.

So that we can share progress, learning, and provide opportunities for folk to be involved, we will be publishing a weekly update via our blog. We've even got the themes all planned out as well, so you can look forward to:

  • housing stock age
  • additional data that helps create a better picture
  • a deeper dive on a local level, using Leeds as the example

A project like this also gives us an opportunity to take a longer look at the current quality and capacity of existing data in context of the opportunities that could be created if this data and infrastructure was better.

As always, we want folk to get involved and feel like they can contribute, so there are several ways to jump in: talk to us via Twitter, send us an email, or add your thoughts/resources to the project Google Doc.