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  • Lawrence Bailey

Powering up a new approach to energy

There’s a quiet energy revolution underway in the Swansea Bay region.

It’s not a big shiny wind turbine farm or a massive tidal construction out in the bay.

Yet a modest cluster of sixteen new homes under construction in Neath could herald a major step change in how we generate power in future.

The innovative ‘Active Buildings’ solar power concept uses a combination of technologies that provide homes with the remarkable ability to generate, store and release their own energy.

It all sounds a bit sci-fi but the Neath scheme is a pathfinder project in a £500+ million ‘Homes as Power Stations’ City Deal venture that aims to deliver smart, low carbon, energy-efficient homes across the region.

I won’t go into all the science but basically the Active Buildings design uses integrated ‘photovoltaic’ panels on the roofs in conjunction with a solar heat collector on south-facing walls. You get cheap heating and hot water plus the bonus of stored excess energy in batteries for later use. Meanwhile, waste heat gets captured and recycled into the home’s ventilation system.

It’s by no means a new idea. The big difference though is that Active Homes isn’t just restricted to modern new build but can also be retro-fitted to existing buildings. Unsurprisingly, the approach is gaining recognition within the construction industry.

The overall aim is to help tackle fuel poverty, cut carbon emissions and meet the need for more housing. The result, if targets are met, is that the total number of outfitted homes could be the output equivalent of a modest-sized power station.

The Neath development is a partnership between Neath Port Talbot council, housing organisation Pobl Group and Swansea University’s SPECIFIC Innovation & Knowledge Centre which is based at Baglan Energy Park.

It’s funded by the Welsh Government’s Innovative Housing Programme and Social Housing Grant as well as private finance. However that does not restrict all future development to the social rented sector.

Some of the big names who control the mortgage market are currently take a fresh look at energy efficient homes as a mainstream housing solution. This should make borrowing for home-owners significantly cheaper.

Things are still at an early stage and there’s a lot of performance monitoring to be done. Even so, it’s good to see Neath Port Talbot lighting the way to better energy efficiency. It’s also good to see City Deal starting to deliver.


No failure for Huw in leaving now

No single person can be given sole credit or held entirely to blame when it comes to the past, present and future fortunes of Swansea City football club.

Each has made a contribution on and off the field and deserves recognition in some form.

Former Swans chairman Huw Jenkins is one in a succession of people who have put tremendous personal commitment into the club over the years. He stepped forward when many others held back. He took risks and made decisions that gained him admiration and which also drew fierce criticism.

There are few more passionate about their heroes than a football crowd - and none as fickle when fortunes takes a dive. Huw was surely more aware of this than most but he stayed the course nonetheless.

Football is a tough old business and there are plenty of knocks to go around. Not every career or every choice proves successful but anyone who thinks Huw Jenkins failed should think again.


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