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Living the DREEAM in Padiham - Large Scale Retrofits to Maximize Energy Efficiency


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Derek Watters:Head of Environmental Sustainability at Places for People (Credits: DREEAM)

Derek Watters: Head of Environmental Sustainability at Places for People

Derek has worked in Social Housing for over 27 years in Asset Management, Housing Management and Housing Development. He is now focused on Environmental Sustainability and has successfully implemented sustainability policies and ISO14001 (in 2010) within PFP.

 He is currently focused on carbon reduction strategies for the group, and has also ensured that PFP is an active participant in the following two projects, for which he obtained funding

  • DREEAM, the subject of this article, and
  • FRESH (Social Housing comprehEnsive Refurbishment through energy Performance contrActing)

Other areas of attention include waste management strategies and greening PFP’s fleet of vehicles.

Derek has a post-graduate qualification from De Montfort in Housing Studies.


There is a reason why there is so much emphasis on retrofitting buildings in Europe; 80% of the buildings that will be around by 2050 have already been constructed. The techniques and materials used when most of these buildings were erected are not energy-efficient, resulting in excessive heat loss and higher energy demand from residents. At the same time, many citizens are experiencing fuel or energy poverty. This is a situation where a resident cannot afford the heating costs that will keep him or her comfortable throughout winter without foregoing other necessities such as food or transport. We reported on the Celsius project and the Borough of Islington as one of the demonstrators, which was also targeting energy poverty through district heat and energy. DREEAM (Demonstrating an integrated Renovation approach for Energy Efficiency At the Multi-building scale) is also targeting energy poverty, while reducing carbon emissions by up to 75%. (note: it is easy to get confused by similar Horizon2020 project acronyms, there are 2 DREAM projects, a DREAMS project and an eDREAM project).

Many of the energy projects operating under the aegis of Horizon 2020 are small to medium in scale, depending on what their desired outcomes are. DREEAM takes a bolder approach. The premise of DREEAM is that large-scale renovations realise greater energy savings than smaller initiatives; while a small-medium project could achieve a 10-40% reduction, the target of DREEAM is as much as 75%. As well as economies of scale, researchers for the project are finding innovative energy-saving products and strategies that go far beyond conventional renovations. Another differentiator of this project is that the principals undertaking the renovations are not municipalities or other public sector bodies, but large property companies.


The British DREEAM

As is the norm with Horizon2020 projects, there are three demonstration sites, chosen for differences in climate and culture. The demonstrators are based in Italy, Germany and England. We spoke to Derek Watters about the British demonstrator in Padiham. Derek is the Head of Environmental Sustainability at Places for People (PFP), a very large property management company, where he has worked for over 27 years.


One of the hallmarks of a successful landlord or property owner is satisfied tenants, which is demonstrated by low turnover. In Padiham, the Whitegate Close neighbourhood consists of 109 properties, a quarter of which have gas-fired heat, while the bulk of houses are supplied via an aged electrical storage heating system. The aim is to make these buildings as energy-efficient as possible while reducing carbon emissions, Gas heating will be substituted with an electrical alternative, insulation will be optimized and renewable energy will be added to the mix via solar. Thermal storage systems will also be installed. Each property in the neighbourhood has an independent grid connection and is supplied under contract with a third party supplier.


PFP are confident that optimizing the energy supply to this social housing complex will make Whitegate an attractive and long-term destination for prospective residents. State-of-the-art heating and energy also reduces the need for maintenance currently experienced in keeping ageing boilers and heating systems repaired.


Some of the Challenges to Date

Moving away from Gas

The majority of houses across PFP’s portfolio (70%) still rely on gas for heating, which has been the norm for British households for generations. The discovery of North Sea gas was meant to continue a cheap and reliable heat supply, but gas has become increasingly expensive and contributes to global warming/climate change as a pollutant. PFP’s intention is for all of its houses to be supplied with electricity and for any gas supplies to be discontinued.  Naturally, residents are reluctant to change from a system with which they are familiar.


Demand Response Still in the Future

Demand response is a very important component in ensuring a cost-effective and consistent energy supply. Incentivising consumers via education and mechanisms such as time-of-use pricing helps to balance the load. However, residents are still adjusting to the conversion from gas, and it is felt that the time is not yet right for implementing active management of heat end energy supply by consumers. However, a feasibility study will identify the best approach for moving to demand management.


The disadvantages of a Decentralized Energy Model

While most countries do not support the natural monopoly of energy any more, one of the drawbacks of the privatization of the CEGB (Central Electricity Generating Board), is that power can be supplied from more than one provider and the pricing can vary. Prediction of future kWh costs is difficult, as is the management of current costs. For a company like PFP, which has properties based all over Britain, regional variances in energy costs need to be taken into account when planning future renovations. One of the suggested solutions is to implement a common electrical purchasing program for each neighbourhood or residential cluster (via another project, FRESH).

Going Forward

PFP ran a competition to find the best suppliers for the Padiham project and recently selected UK company Upside Energy and Dutch startup Lyv to assist in the pilot. These two innovative companies are engaged in a feasibility study to find the optimal solutions for the neighbourhood that started in 2019. Upside has a successful track record in implementing demand response in affordable housing, while Lyv brings expertise in virtual power plants as well as demand response.

About Places for People

Places for People is an established company that has evolved over 50 years into an organization that specializes in affordable and sustainable community housing. They have over 180 000 homes in their portfolio that house over 500 000 people. PFP specializes in regenerating neighbourhoods, making them sustainable, mixed-tenure communities that are designed for the future comfort and security of their residents. This is done via 20 specialist subsidiary companies, ranging from property management and construction to retirement and assisted living expertise.