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Coventry University Develops Smart Sensor Technology

By David Holmes on May 23, 2011

According to Professor Elena Gaura of Coventry University, a project to create low-cost sensors designed to monitor CO2 levels, humidity, temperature and light in 150 homes owned by Orbit Heart of England provides the opportunity to revolutionise domestic energy usage in the UK.

UK housing stock accounts for 27% of UK's greenhouse gas emmissions

Writing in the Guardian, Professor Gaura noted that retrofitting the UK’s energy-inefficient housing stock is a sizeable task. The professor wrote: “the sheer scale of the job and the potential costs are terrifying (a large town of homes retrofitted per week for the next 20 years would just about do it)”.

Ensuring that Britain’s domestic properties are more energy efficient is necessary if the UK Government is to meet its climate change obligations. Reducing carbon emissions whilst conserving energy is certainly important, but can the task realistically be achieved? Professor Gaura thinks not.

Introducing Coventry University’s new project, Professor Gaura notes that the low-cost sensors provide a substantial quantity of data, which can be checked against energy and water consumption. The sensors enable property owners to determine whether carbon emissions are caused predominantly by central heating systems, the behaviour of residents or the very fabric of the building.

Professor Gaura believes the sensors will arm landlords with sufficient information as to make informed decisions on energy. Ground source heating was cited as one product that might attract change, with the professor writing: “ground-source heating is often regarded as being energy efficient, but it needs to be permanently switched on. People more familiar with controlling the heat of a central heating system often switch the ground-source system off, which leads to a cold house”.

Unfortunately, cold houses provide the perfect breeding ground for mould, which can be harmful to human health. Mould can prove difficult to remove from a home, resulting in expensive repairs. Coventry University’s sensors are able to predict the formation of mould with the aim of encouraging landlords to act.

The sensors also monitor the performance of so-called ‘zero carbon’ houses to determine whether developers’ claims can be justified. Ultimately, the Coventry University project aims to provide enough data to encourage targeted retrofitting – not wholesale changes that take too long, cost too much money and may even make matters worse in some cases.