As significant contributors to global CO2 and other GHG emissions, it is recognised that the energy and buildings sectors must find ways to decarbonise. Active Buildings represent a potential route to addressing these issues, realising the net zero energy transition as well as transforming the sustainability of the built environment. Our research focuses on the development and realisation of Active Homes, a particular type of Active Building. Based on our qualitative research across a range of Active Home developments we illustrate that while diverse in their locations, materialities and mode of contribution to net zero targets, our case sites share a number of common goals, including ambition to create environments both within and outside of the homes that enhance their occupants’ lives, through enabling social connections with neighbours, embodied connections with nature or enhancing occupant health. Underpinning these ambitions is an understanding that the daily lives carried out within the homes are intrinsically connected to the wider context, the environment and community, they are within. Through fostering these connections, it is imagined that not only will the occupants be able to live well, but that homes and wider active neighbourhoods will become valued and valuable places, to both the people living there and wider society. However, residents are people at different life stages, with different household compositions, social relationships, histories and anticipated futures, including their expectations for life in their new home. Thus, residents will likely both affect and be affected by their homes and new communities in different ways. Drawing on findings from our Living Well in Low Carbon Homes research, we explore how such ambitions have been realised in Active Homes being developed in the UK and how this has interplayed with the expectations of the people residing in them to affect the formation of value and communities.
Dr Kate O’Sullivan – Kate is a Research Associate based in Cardiff University and is currently working on the Active Building Centre Research Programme. This qualitative longitudinal research is exploring how the assumptions underpinning the development of Active Homes are realised in their design and subsequently, how this influences the daily lives of their occupants and how the homes perform overall. Understanding the interplay between homes, energy and people, as the pathways towards net zero are navigated is essential for Active Homes to successfully contribute to net zero goals and become places where people can live well. More broadly, Kate’s research interests focus on the interplay between environmental, spatial and energy justice – how the sustainable and equitable use of natural resources is influenced by various economic, political and socio-spatial structures and how this manifests geographically. Research in this area is increasingly important as decarbonisation progresses and opportunities are presented that enable emerging systems and structures become more just. Her PhD research (2015-20) has highlighted the connections between political power, recognition, socio-economic development and the spatial distribution of costs and benefits emerging from low carbon transition.
Dr Fiona Shirani – Fiona is a Research Associate based in the School of Social Sciences at Cardiff University. Her research interests include how life events and relationships to others impact everyday energy use, as well as experiences of energy vulnerability. She has worked on several qualitative longitudinal projects and specialises in this methodological approach. Fiona is currently working as a Research Associate on the Active Building Centre Research Programme exploring experiences of living in Active or Zero Carbon Homes in and through space and time. She also works on the interdisciplinary FLEXIS programme, conducting a qualitative longitudinal study in a Welsh Valleys community where an innovative district heating scheme is under development.
Dr Rachel Hale – Rachel is a Research Associate based in the School of Psychology at Cardiff University. Her background is in sociology, and science and technology studies (STS). Her research interests include how people and technologies interact, and how this affects their health and wellbeing. She has worked on several qualitative and mixed methods research projects, and specialises in ethnographic research methods. Rachel is currently working on the Active Building Centre Research Programme exploring experiences of living well in Active or Zero Carbon Homes in and through space and time.
Professor Karen Henwood – Karen Henwood is a Professor in Cardiff University’s School of Social Sciences and its Understanding Risk Research Group. She works on how it is possible for people to meet the challenges posed to themselves and society by the dynamics of environmental risk and socio-cultural change, including infrastructure and technology transitions in energy systems. Currently, in addition to work on the Active Building Centre Research Programme, Karen is a Co-Investigator on two social science and engineering/built environment projects: FLEXIS and NEUPA. The Flexis (Flexible Integrated Energy Systems) project is researching local community engagement with energy system change in South Wales; one of its work packages (on ‘energy system change and everyday life’) highlights questions about the lived experiences and dynamics of vulnerability. NEUPA (2020-2023) is an EPSRC study of network upgrade, local disruption, and heat decarbonisation.
Professor Nick Pidgeon – Professor Nick Pidgeon is Director of the Understanding Risk Research Group within the School of Psychology at Cardiff University. His research looks at public attitudes, risk perception and public engagement with environmental risks and energy technologies and infrastructures. He is Co-Investigator on the Flexible Integrated Energy Systems (FLEXIS) Project, researching community engagement with energy system change in South Wales. Nick was awarded an Honorary Fellowship of the British Science Association in 2011 and an MBE in the 2014 Queen’s Birthday Honours for services to UK climate change awareness and energy security policy. He was Co-investigator on the ESRC Energy Biographies project. He is currently a member of the UK Department for Transport Science Advisory Council.