Optimising the retrofitting of energy-efficient systems using algorithms: saving costs and improving lives

BCU’s research into the optimal design and manufacturing of a retrofit system for energy-inefficient houses, led to a project with Beattie Passive and other industrial partners to retrofit 3 houses and 12 flats.

Research Summary

The research into the optimal design and manufacturing of a retrofit system for energy-inefficient houses responded to the UK Governments desire to address the poor energy efficiency of homes. As a result of the work with Beattie Passive the research has resulted in a change in Beattie’s policies and practices, helping to reduce costs and address the construction skills shortage through involving local housing providers in the building process. It has improved the health and well-being of residents, as well as had an impact on the environment through a reduction in energy use of around 85%.

As of the end of 2020, BCU is working with Stroma, an environmental sustainability and compliance services provider to the built environment, on a project that will help to improve the accuracy of the 2,500 Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs) that its assessors issue each day on average.

Research Background

The UK Government has identified 6 million energy-inefficient homes and has initiated various schemes aiming to retrofit 600,000 homes.

Between 2014 and 2017 Dr Shadi Basurra and a research team led an Innovate UK-funded project called Retrofit Plus, which digitised the process of deep energy retrofit, carried out on 3 council-owned houses and 12 flats in the West Midlands. They also supported the development of ‘TCosy, which used innovative techniques to eliminate heat loss and making the buildings draught free.

The BCU research team developed an automated calibration mechanism on the basis of past energy bills, using AI algorithms such as 𝑘 Nearest Neighbour (k-NN) and sensitivity analysis to create a retrofit survey using 3D scanning to generate simulation models which help plan the best way to achieve a net-zero carbon rating.

The researchers also developed realistic human behaviour modelling that aimed to estimate occupants’ behaviour related to energy consumption, considering the number of people in the household, age and occupancy.

Impact and Outcomes

By using a hybrid construction scheme, a practice enabled by this research, Beattie Passive was able to considerably speed up the time of Retrofit installation, as constructing the panels off-site in factories made the retrofit less dependent on weather conditions thus reducing costs.

The success of the Retrofit Plus project with BCU and partners led Beattie Passive to set up a Flying Factory scheme, whereby housing associations, local authorities, social enterprises and property developers can partner with Beattie Passive, which enables housing providers to utilise a local labour force or train unskilled people, thus delivering social and economic benefits for the community.

Tenants of the retrofitted flats and houses confirmed that the holistic retrofit approach made their homes a more comfortable and healthier environment to live in. Their feedback to the questionnaire shows that there was a behaviour change in the occupants due to increased internal temperatures and fewer warm clothes needed in winter. Performance evaluation also showed that the project is estimated to deliver CO2 savings in the range 2-4t CO2 per year per dwelling.

Dr Basurra is using the tools developed in the Retrofit Plus project as core component for the EcRoFit project, funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), to be utilised by Stroma, a provider of compliance services to ensure environmental sustainability in the built environment, on a project to refine the expert tool to facilitate its integration with Stroma’s workflow.


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Dr. Shadi S. Basurra

Dr Shadi Basurra

Senior Lecturer

Shadi Basurra received his BSc (Hons) degree in Computer Science from Exeter University, the UK, and MSc in Distributed Systems and Networks from Kent University at Canterbury, UK. He obtained his Ph.D. from the University of Bath in collaboration with Bristol University.  After completing his Ph.D., Shadi worked at Sony Corporation developing Goal Decision Systems, he then moved on to work as a Research Fellow at the Zero Carbon Lab - Birmingham City University. He recently joined the Computer Science Centre as a Senior Lecturer in Software Engineering at Birmingham City University.

Prof Mohamed Gaber

Professor in Data Analytics

Mohamed Gaber is a Professor in Big Data Analytics at our School of Computing and Digital Technology.

He received his PhD from Monash University in Australia, and then held appointments with the University of Sydney and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO). Prior to joining Birmingham City University, Mohamed held academic positions at Robert Gordon University and the University of Portsmouth.

Mohamed has been listed in the world’s top two per cent of best scientists in his field of research and in the world’s top one per cent in artificial intelligence and image processing.