UCL Energy Institute


Dr Ian Hamilton on building energy efficiency in the European Commission's SETIS Journal

5 November 2019

Commenting on Building Energy Epidemiology as an over-arching approach, Dr Hamilton explains what it means, what it implies and why "real building energy use at scale" is a most useful way to meet the EU decarbonisation targets in a complex and heterogeneous building stock.

Photo by Sebastian Estrada-etj2uiqbj-8-on-unsplash

Dr Ian Hamilton is an expert in the nexus between energy supply-demand in buildings, indoor and urban environmental conditions, and health and climate change. The UCL Associate Professor is interviewed in the October issue of the Strategic Energy Technologies Information System (SETIS) journal of the European Commission where he shed some light on what building energy epidemiology is and how it can help lead towards higher energy efficiency for the European building stock by informing policymaking and members states about what they should implement to meet the EU decarbonisation targets.

  • What does the transition towards lowcarbon building stock mean for Europe?

Member states must evidently decarbonise the power supply but also reduce energy demand through retrofits of existing stock. To reach this aim, they must tell "what policies and actions will deliver these results", a question that doesn't go without difficulties. Complex environments, pressures, regulations and a heterogeneous European building stock require better tools and systems as well as a greater "general understanding of the characteristics which affect energy performance" than what we observe currently, says Ian Hamilton.

  • What is energy building epidemiology and how can it help the energy efficiency of building stock?
Building energy epidemiology is the study of energy demands to improve our understanding of variations in the energy-consuming population, and their causes. It considers the complex interactions between physical and engineered systems, socio-economic and environmental conditions, and the individual practices of occupants. Energy epidemiology provides an over-arching approach, where findings from large-scale studies inform energy policy, and provide the context for conventional smallscale studies and information for predictive models. - Dr Ian Hamilton

IEA EBC Annex 70 – Building Energy Epidemiology is a collaboration of researchers, industry and government "working to develop methods to improve empirical evidence on energy demand in building stock". Amongst them, many European researchers adopt the approach to address and improve the Building Energy Efficiency made even more necessary by the EU decarbonisation targets.

  • How can analyses of building stocks at scale help policymaking?

Analyses "reveal the scale of the challenge and offers a general ‘health check’", a "knowledge of their real performance", thus helping "policymakers understand how building characteristics, and people’s behaviours and needs, drive energy use" by helping them "improve the energy performance gap – the difference between models used to plan retrofits, and subsequent real-world measurements" as well as "better understand the intended and unintended consequences of their programmes. For example, a retrofit package will impact differently on households living with fuel poverty than those which are not."

  • Are there best practices in national building stock monitoring and how can we apply them more widely?

More routine data collection on population levels, epidemiological studies and energy efficiency retrofits would help improve empirical analysis and fill the gaps left by the Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs), which prove helpful but present issues on how these certificates are designed and implemented. 
Although still needing improvement in terms of quality, EPC is publicly available in some countries (UK, Ireland, Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Norway), which Ian Hamilton regards as best practice for enabling transparency and detection mechanisms.

  • What policy initiatives have produced positive results in the UK?
In the UK, the practice of using of large, federated databases, such as the National Energy Efficiency Data-Framework, has improved the understanding of the real-world (i.e. empirically measured) impacts of large-scale retrofit programmes. Analysis of energy supplier obligations found that some retrofits were not achieving what the models had estimated (Hamilton et al, 2013; Hamilton et al 2017). The use of NEED has yielded considerable benefit for policymakers in evaluating the impact of retrofit programmes on energy use, helping to target energy poverty programmes such as the Energy Company Obligation and the Warm Homes Discount.

Read the interview and content sources here.

Dr Ian Hamilton is an Associate Professor at the UCL Energy Institute, University College London, UK. Ian’s research is focused on the nexus between energy supply-demand in buildings, indoor and urban environmental conditions, and health and climate change. Ian is the Principle Investigator for the IEA’s ‘Annex 70: Building energy epidemiology’ on energy and building stock data and modelling, drawing together researchers from 25 institutions across 12 countries. Ian is a co-investigator on the UK’s ‘Centre on Research for Energy Demand Solutions’, the UK-China Centre for Total Building Performance and the UK’s Health Protection Research Unit on ‘Healthy and Sustainable Cities under Climate Change’.