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AirEx - Smart Ventilation Control

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - AirEx (AirEx - Smart Ventilation Control)

Reporting period: 2017-12-01 to 2018-05-31

Problem identified: Buildings are responsible for 36% of the EU’s CO2 emissions . While new builds are constructed to a higher energy efficiency (EE) standard, 42% of the North-, and Western-European housing stock was built pre-1960 with drastically lower efficiency. Retrofit EE measures can broadly be divided into 2 categories: a) those with an attractive payback that are already widely adopted and there is little room for incremental gains (e.g. loft or cavity wall insulation); b) those with prohibitive capex (long payback), where take-up is dependent on government support schemes (e.g. solid wall insulation, double-glazing). These products have been typically funded by various subsidy schemes across Europe, which have been progressively withdrawn. The next iteration of ECO3 energy subsidy scheme in the UK (2018-2022) will be predominantly focusing on ‘hard-to-treat’ properties, where currently available retrofit energy upgrades are expensive and hugely disruptive, preventing uptake.

Landlords and homeowners with constrained budget to spend on energy upgrades, will be looking for the next ‘low hanging fruit’: a low-cost, high-impact intervention.
Market Opportunity: We identified a huge untapped potential in the energy saving impact of controlling air-vents (air-bricks). These vents (located at the external walls, predominantly in existing, pre-1970s homes) were originally built in to provide natural ventilation to the living space and/or floor void. In the UK, 17.8 m homes, in the Netherlands, 3.8 m homes built before the 1970s have air bricks, and our European market research suggest further markets (e.g. Germany: 12 m homes; France: 16.6 m homes with air-vents, due the same climatic conditions and housing construction), resulting in a 53.4 million3,4,5 homes European market, providing a £18.7 bn EU market opportunity.

Dual-problem of natural ventilation: air vents which are constantly open can lead to up to 15% of the homes’ total heat loss (based on research conducted by Sheffield University). At the same time, if occupants permanently block air vents, this can lead to moisture build-up, (risking air quality and subsequently occupant’s health) and costing c. £7.4k/home to repair damp damage .

Solution: To overcome these issues and exploit this market opportunity, UT have developed a cloud-based, intelligent ventilation control (AirEx), which enables ~15% heating energy saving for residents without compromising moisture build-up or air quality. It measures (and predicts) environmental conditions, such as temperature, humidity and air quality, and its cloud-based algorithms automatically regulate air flow. AirEx uses self-learning algorithms to predict occupants’ behaviour and weather pattern, to enable more efficient air-flow optimisation across the home. Furthermore, the real-time data collected from AirEx’s smart sensors layered with online data using predictive analytics, can support Registered Social Landlords (RSLs) and Facility Managers to undertake more cost-effective and targeted preventative maintenance, as opposed to high-cost, unpredicted repair work (e.g. AirEx system can flag up indicators of mould risk or timber rot).

Ultimately, our vision is to become the UK’s first affordable smart ventilation control provider for existing homes through reducing energy consumption in a cheaper, non-intrusive way, without compromising damp and air quality.
During this Feasibility Study we have explored the market potential across our key target customer groups: Social Ladlords, Retrofit Installers and Energy Companies: both in the UK and across the wider European markets, including France, Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Ireland.

We have refined our customer proposition for our three key customer groups - this refinement process have been completed based on 23 interviews conducted in the last 6 months with key customers as well as other stakeholders (government bodies, supply chain partners, distributors, etc).

Key partnerships have been established and strengthened during this Feasibility Study, with particular regards to our Hungary-based manufacturer suppliers and UK-based distributor partners (further distributors have been engaged in France and Belgium too). Major engagment activities were conducted during a 3-day tech exhibition (VivaTechnology Paris) where we built up relationship with more than 100 stakeholders (construction firms, energy companies, investors, etc).

We developed and refined a detailed product development roadmap and defined cost reduction opportunities to underpin future development. In order to do this, we had a great support from our Hungary-based supplier partner. We managed to find alternative component sourcees (Eastern European region) , we analysed technology learning curves and assembly learning curves (lessons learnt based on test batch production), we obtained various quotations for mass production from suppliers (UK, Hungary, Belgium), we made detailed analysis on price decline of sensor and battery components > the latter have infirmed an important design decision int terms of battery selection.

The detailed analysis of Results from SME Phase 1 project can be found in the Technical Report. We intend to use the findings of this Report when engaging private sector investors, government bodies, as part of our broader dissemination strategy.
Social, environmental impact: Once commercialised, AirEx will be able to achieve over 881 m tCO2 lifetime savings across the EU – considering an average 16.5 tCO2 savings per property (through the lifetime of the product) .
In terms of social impact, at full market penetration AirEx has the potential to lift 430,000 families out of Fuel Poverty in the UK - given that the average Fuel Poverty Gap is c. £120 for ~20% of the 2.35 million fuel poor households. Furthermore, significant health benefits can be achieved by implementing AirEx. The correlation between poor energy-efficiency and respiratory health problems is a well-researched area, and recent studies highlighted that older housing stock can benefit far more from EE combined with adequately installed PPV (purpose-provided ventilation) , not to mention the additional social cost to public health: solely in the UK, the NHS could save £15.8m/yr by fixing the problem of dampness in homes. AriEx can largely contribute to this goal, by excluding unwanted draughts while ensuring sufficient air-exchange and mitigating condensation, in a smart, automated way.

This SME Instrument Feasinbility Study have helped us to make a significant step in commercialising our AirEx system which will then have a great potential to achieve significant social and environmental impacts - as described above.
AirEx unit installed
AirEx diagram