Swansea Council’s Home As Power Stations (HAPS) initiative is designed to help the authority achieve its ambition of becoming net zero by the end of the decade. Deputy Leader, Cllr Andrea Lewis, spoke to APSE about the success of the HAPS model so far, and the Council’s climate action plans for the future.
There is no doubt any longer. The world is facing a climate emergency and the window of opportunity to change the way we live is closing rapidly. As recently as a decade ago the idea that local government could have a critical role on the frontline of the climate emergency was not really something many people could see. But that’s not the case any longer.
Climate change is a global issue that must be managed with a global response. Yes, up to a point. But that response begins with us as individuals and families, making our own decisions to change. The next step up in that hierarchy is local government. If every local government body in the world chooses to do the right things, then our global response to the emergency would be secure.
In Swansea that response is multi-faceted. A decade ago we began with the drive to reduce, re-use and recycle our waste. Working with 21 other local authorities and the Welsh Government, together we are now one of the top-performing nations in the world at recycling. Others come to us to find out how we do it.
Now we are planning to be a net zero council by the end of this decade. Already all our electricity is purchased from renewable resources, our off-road pedestrian and cycling network has grown by 25% in three years, our schools and communities currently generate 580kw of power from solar energy. We have the biggest electric vehicle fleet of any council in Wales, with more to come.
Setting an example matters. Local authorities are community leaders. If we don’t lead by example, how can we expect others to share our vision? So while we’re doing our bit, we’re also encouraging and supporting others to do theirs. We are encouraging businesses, communities, young people and voluntary groups to join us and sign up to the Swansea Charter on Climate Action. We’re asking people to make a decision on an individual basis – one by one – to change their behaviour in favour of the planet.
That’s one of the reasons, to my mind, that our homes as power stations (HAPS) initiative matters. If we can show people it is easy to play their part in their normal daily lives, cutting energy costs and reducing their carbon footprint as they go, then we have a chance of success in the climate emergency.
We began our journey with a first pilot scheme, which was an 18 unit development of Passivhaus homes. Following this scheme, the Council then developed its own Swansea Standard for new build housing. The Swansea Standard is a Fabric First approach, which uses key principles of passivhaus design, in maximising solar gain through orientation, incorporating high performance triple glazed windows, high levels of mass insulation, no thermal bridging, and extremely high levels of airtightness with a target of four air changes per minute.
To achieve HAPS the Swansea Standard is then combined with innovative and renewable technologies so our homes have Ground Source Heat Pumps (GSHPs), PV solar roofs, battery storage and Mechanical Ventilation Heat Recovery (MVHR) Systems. Each home can, at certain times, generate more energy than they use and the excess is stored in on-site batteries, available on tap for when it’s needed.
To date we have completed two new build HAPS schemes comprising 34 properties using the HAPS model. We have also retrofitted six bungalows to this standard. In Spring this year, a further 25 HAPS properties will be handed over to new tenants, and there are more schemes starting this year. These schemes will also form part of the pathfinder projects for the Swansea Bay City deal Homes as Power Stations project.
Feedback from tenants who have already occupied these new homes has been very positive and - at a time when almost all of us are worried about the soaring cost of energy - they have less to be concerned about than most.
But there is still much to learn about how we extend and improve the offer. The Swansea Standard has delivered on our obligation to the Wellbeing of Future Generations (Wales) Act thanks to supply chains being kept local, thereby benefiting local jobs, the local economy and the environment. We recruited 15 local full and part-time jobs, helped 25 apprentices learn new skills in innovative construction methods. And that, in turn, attracted significant interest from further education colleges with visits from 18 lecturers coming to see what we were doing and taking it back to the classroom. In doing this we’re helping future generations of trade and construction specialists develop skills in building these types of property.
Learning from what we’ve done so we can build on the successes and improve on the ideas that have not worked out as well as expected is a vital part of the HAPS experience. Plus, there is the cost factor. We need to look at how we balance the higher construction cost of HAPS homes against the desperate need to build homes that are affordable to rent.
Swansea, like many other councils, has transformed what it does and how it goes about its work over the last decade to help lead our communities in tackling the climate emergency. Doing things that are ultimately easier, smarter and normal for everyone will influence and encourage others to join us. A decade ago Swansea’s recycling rate was 45.2%. Now its 64.5% and on course to meet the Welsh Government’s 70% challenge by 2025. Yes, hitting the Net Zero target by the Council by 2030 and for the whole of the city by 2050 is a tough task. But by putting the right infrastructure in place they can make it easier for people to make the decision to change and to do the right things to help tackle climate change. And, as our HAPS initiative has shown, that change can begin at home.
• Cllr Andrea Lewis delivered a presentation on this topic at the APSE Full Association Online Meeting on 21 January. To download the presentation click here.