Tuesday 2 January 2024

The "Home Energy Model" - The Artist Formerly Known as SAP


Alongside its consultation on the Future Homes Standard building regulations, the government has revealed sweeping changes to the calculation underpinning Part L of the building regulations (Conservation of Fuel and Power), and launched a consultation on the new approach.

The StandardAssessment Procedure (SAP) has been the government approved methodology to estimate the energy performance of homes in the UK since 1993, a time when it was felt to be important that the method be simple enough to be completed with pen and paper and calculator. 

Inevitably, computer software emerged to make the job of energy assessors more convenient.  Provided by third party companies, these applications needed to be checked by the Building Research Establishment (BRE), the body responsible for the development of SAP, before they could be used to demonstrate compliance with building regulations.

Over subsequent versions of SAP issued in 1998, 2001, 2005, 2009, 2012 and 2022 the complexity of the model increased.  Building elements were dealt with in more sophisticated ways to improve the accuracy of the model (for example the treatment of junctions in thermal insulation or - a personal favourite – an improved treatment of the performance of solar thermal systems in 2005).  New technologies were more widely adopted in construction and needed to be added (for example battery storage in 2022).

SAP's Growing Pains

Shortcomings of this approach had begun to emerge over time but were brought into sharp focus by the 2022 implementation.  Developers found themselves struggling to work out how to build new homes that complied with the new building regulations already in force even as the third-party software was unavailable due to delays in the certification process.

Another reason for a wholesale review of the model, flagged by the Climate Change Committee, was the emergence of key technologies that couldn’t be easily or accurately added to the existing framework in a timely way:

  • Solar PV and self-consumption of generated electricity
  • Battery storage of electricity
  • Solar PV diverters
  • Time of use energy tariffs
  • Smart energy controls – timing the use of energy to coincide with cheap tariffs and the availability of renewable energy.

The SAP model was based on a monthly time resolution.  This meant that the impact of new technologies had to be demonstrated in real life studies and an average performance across multiple households derived before a simplified month by month impact could be added to the model.

A case in point was the introduction of battery storage in the 2022 version.  Data was scarce because the technology was relatively new.  A simplified average performance that linked installed solar capacity, total energy use and battery storage capacity was derived by applying a line of best fit to the available data.  This formula was incorporated into the monthly SAP model.  No data was available on homes that combined battery storage with solar PV diverters, so SAP only allowed one of the technologies to be used at a time.


 A New Approach

The government is consulting on a fundamental re-working of the model.  It’s such a big change that SAP has been dropped in favour of a new name ‘The Home Energy Model’.  Changes include:

  • The model will be available as a cloud-based software ‘core engine’, with the source code published on GitHub
  • ‘Wrappers’ will be published for different applications – comprising different starting assumptions as inputs which will then feed into the same core engine.  The first wrapper to be published will be for the 2025 building regulations, followed by a wrapper for the generation of Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs) for existing homes.
  • The software runs on a 30-minute time resolution, allowing better modelling of smart technologies such as solar, battery storage and time-of-use energy tariffs
  • An updated solar PV generation calculation is based on the hourly methodology in BS EN 15316-4-3:2017, which includes the effect of ventilation on the rear of the panels.

Impact on Solar

 The solar industry should welcome the change from SAP to the new Home Energy Model.

The move to cloud-based software brings the approach up to date.  The separation of a core engine, based on best available building physics modelling, from the ‘wrappers’ which clearly surface the assumptions and inputs into the model for specific applications such as building regulations or EPCs makes it much easier to interrogate how the ‘black box’ is working.

The change to a half-hour resolution better supports enabling technologies that work with solar PV – battery storage, smart energy controls and hot water from PV fed immersion heaters.  This will further cement the position of solar PV as a normal part of any new home built in the UK.

The change to the hourly methodology for solar generation needs to be carefully assessed, I will be writing about this in my next blog.