Stronghouse in Scotland

07 February 2023 - Published by Deirdre Buist
With only a few months till the end of the Stronghouse project, the Robert Gordon University (RGU) hosted our penultimate partner meeting in Aberdeen on 24th – 25th January. Despite having adapted to online and hybrid work sessions, the value of physical meetings was once again sturdily underlined as the consortium shared a wealth of knowledge and experience, learning most from similarities and differences.

While the energy crisis has had a global impact, each partner country has its own challenges and regional characteristics.  In Scotland we witnessed a very different building typology, where  issues were sometimes compounded by the quality of housing, the damp weather, the questionable allocation of funding and many other factors. The scale and scope of renewable energy and retrofit initiatives presented, were inspiring.

Outlining local context

Following a warm welcome by Dr. Bassam Bjeirmi, Interim Dean at RGU, this latest partner event opened with a series of informative presentations by experts, providing a strong outline of the local context and some of the energy renovation solutions currently being implemented. 

Kicking off, Matt Club, a Passivhaus Designer and Retrofit Coordinator, focused on low energy design, community engagement and retrofit, employing PHPP thermal bridge modelling, scans, hydro-thermal analysis and ‘fabric first, blow it all’ testing.  Matt’s  motto: “Build right, build tight!”

A Just Transition

“The benchmark in Scotland presents us with a huge mountain to climb – not to mention that our regional retrofit supply chain is non-existent in the north east ,” he said. “Every building is different – we need to pay attention to detail and what can go wrong, while also aiming for a  ‘Just Transition’.

Subsequently, Mike Bauermeister, Stronghouse partner at Kishorn, shared his  experience regarding the insulation of historical buildings. He was followed by Professor Gokay Deveci whose research and development of affordable solutions for energy-efficient housing for the Scottish volume housing market ignited some lively discussions with the particpants.

Scottish-specific challenges

Stronghouse representatives at RGU, Professor Amar Bennadji and  Dr. Mohammed Sedikki shared more context, touching on Scottish-specific professional and academic challenges and social issues, such as:

  • The UK standard is EPC C - only 29% of homes in comply
  • The diversity of building typologies
  • Current building regulations and alignment with energy-efficiency goals for 2050
  • Moisture management - a crucial aspect in UK energy renovation projects.undefined

Partners suggest potential energy-saving solutions for traditional cottages

RGU's online tool protoype

RGU have produced many academic reports on retrofit and energy efficiency. During the course of the Stronghouse project this partner has designed, tested and evaluated a prototype for a new online tool. This digital tool defines a wide range of building typologies (using data from English, Welsh, Scottish and Northern Ireland housing surveys) and generates the retrofit measures required for homeowners to achieve an ultimate solution and low energy status. Energy models were developed using SAP (Standard Assessment Procedure).

Customer Journey

Stronghouse has a continuous focus on the customer journey, approaching the transition to more energy-efficient homes from the perspective of those who live in them and how different persona’s face energy renovation and the accompanying challenges.

Geske Barendregt shared how the Customer Journey has been organized in Drenthe: “All 12 municipalities in the Dutch province are on board and share knowledge from different perspectives, including  instruments and good examples,” she said.  “By working together we can jointly develop new instruments and make efficient use of staff and budgets.” Having defined the steps, the homeowners’ needs, obstacles and instruments,  the process is well underway. Practically speaking this has resulted in new support mechanisms being introduced which now include 2,500 euros worth of insulation for low income homes, a similar offer for double glass and further subsidized energy-saving measures.

Many such  measures passed the revue in the Stronghouse E-learning Course, as Martin Guth from atene-KOM quizzed the participants. Possibilities were also discussed for more effective dissemination of the e-learning at future EU events, amongst other channels.

Collecting & consolidating learnings

Following the ever-important project management updates and deadlines, the participants divided into groups for a work session in preparation for the final stage of the project - collecting and consolidating  Stronghouse learnings, outputs and the value of transnational cross-border cooperation. Plans were also discussed for future activities, final meetings and potential spin-off/bilateral events. Complementary to this, Georgios Pardalis from Linnaeus Universitytested a first concept of a survey developed within the project to collect relevant data and evaluate the different partner activities.


Collecting lessons learned 

Upcoming H2 meeting

One Stronghouse event being organized is a hydrogen-themed meeting in the northern Netherlands at the end of March.  The Drenthe partners, together with Vives and Bremerhaven (TBC) are currently preparing an exciting programme looking at the whole chain and required tools needed for H2 home heating and other associated H2 initiatives. More details will soon be posted: watch the Stronghouse website and follow us on social media (LinkedIn and Twitter) so you don’t miss it!

Orkeney's energy journey 

Although the Orkney Islands are no longer an official Stronghouse partner, we were delighted to hear more about these Scottish islands and the incredible investments being made in renewable energy. Luke Fraser, Orkney inhabitant and expert in the field, shared a wealth of knowledge and experience on the islands’ unique geographical position and energy journey.

Some inspiring facts and figures:

  • Wind turbines have been part of the landscape since the 1980s and currently more than 100% of the electricity demand  is produced from renewable sources (mainly wind).  Orkney is at the centre of future Scottish offshore wind opportunities.
  • The European Marine Energy Centre has 20 years of experience with wave and tidal prototype testing. The 2MW O2 tidal turbine supplies 2,000 homes.
  • Focus is now also on using constrained renewable power to create and use hydrogen production (generation for storage, ferries, vans, aircraft and even gin!)
  • Almost a third of housing stock is heated by a heat pump (there’s no mains gas).

Energy poverty & retrofit prospects

“In terms of retrofit the housing stock is largely old, inefficient and expensive to heat (with electricity or oil),” Luke explained. “About 50% suffer from energy poverty in Orkney. The geographical challenges and construction types make large scale retrofit programmes extra challenging, but significant progress has been made over the last 20 years, with funding from Scottish and UK governments. However, complex eligibility rules often means that households miss out on some retrofit prospects.”

Building Renovation Passport

Luke told the partners about the Building Renovation Passport which is designed to offer an overview of upgrade options and finance opportunities per property – handholding the homeowner during the process. The passport provides data on the starting condition and the EPC data when energy-efficient installations have been completed. The consortium recognized similarities and parallels with the Customer Journey approach.

Castles & cottages - thermal challenges

Day 2 was reserved for a field trip. Stronghouse colleagues from RGU treated the group to a wide spectrum of local retrofit challenges  - ranging from tiny, not-so-cosy cottages in an historic fishing village to spectacular castles constructed long  before the invention of  thermal scans!


Stronghouse visited a range of Scottish-specific  energy-efficiency challenges

Moisture management

As the partners were challenged to share their creative retrofit solutions, we also visited a housing estate with some ‘bad examples’. Prof.Bennadji: “We can learn a great deal from mistakes. Despite good intentions, some measures can actually do more harm than good. Moisture management is a crucial aspect in this region so if there is already existing damp, making a building air tight will only aggravate the problem. Insulation and ventilation go hand in hand.”

Valuable learning opportunity

As the UK are no longer on board for the new Interreg NSR programme, we were very grateful to have this exceptional learning opportunity. The regional identity and area-specific characteristics of Scotland have provided valuable insights. We hope future collaborations can continue in an alternative setting.