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Leeds trials Earthbound debut for space heat mapping tech


Leeds has acted as the testbed for a pioneering space technology that could help the UK to map heat loss from houses.

The test flight, the first in the UK, marked a significant step forward in the race to decarbonise national housing stock with the deployment of cutting-edge space technology to identify the buildings most in need of retrofitting action.

The specially equipped plane, mounted with a sophisticated thermal imaging camera, flew over Leeds to gather data on the level of heat loss from individual buildings. This aerial thermal imaging technique, developed by Satellite Vu, offers an unprecedented level of detail and scale, allowing local authorities to more effectively target funding for retrofitting homes by being able to identity the hottest buildings in the data set, those most in need of retrofitting and insulation.

The data collected will be used to identify priority areas for insulating homes, enabling a more efficient and effective allocation of resources to upgrade and decarbonise housing stock. The technology Satellite Vu are developing will be able to aggregate areas of data and single out the leakiest buildings using an index spatial analysis.

The flight was funded by the net zero charity MCS Charitable Foundation and carried out in partnership with Leeds City Council. The council will use the thermal imaging data to help residents better understand heat loss and to motivate retrofitting in the private sector.

The data will also be used to strengthen the case for local area-based retrofit and other schemes by the council that have already had a transformative impact, such as the recent whole house retrofit of 300 mixed-tenure Victorian back-to-back homes in the Holbeck area of the city.

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Satellite Vus heat mapping tech
Satellite Vu’s heat mapping tech

The council’s efforts to improve the energy efficiency of homes in Leeds have yielded significant results. After updating Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs), it was found that each property on average saved 2.5 tonnes of CO2 per year. This translates to a total saving of 84 tonnes of carbon across the lifetime of each home, as well as a financial saving of around 25 per cent, or £350 per year. This was also before the energy crisis, so fuel bills were around £1400 in the properties. If the same properties were retrofitted now, the savings could be as much as £700 or more due to the doubling of energy prices.

Dr Richard Hauxwell-Baldwin, research and campaigns manager at MCS Charitable Foundation, said: “With 29 million homes in the UK urgently needing upgrades to be fit for the future, we need detailed data on building conditions on a massive scale. This proof of concept could provide that data for the first time and will be game-changing for investment in whole-street and whole-area retrofitting programmes.”

Councillor Helen Hayden, Leeds City Council executive member for infrastructure and climate added: “It is hugely exciting that Leeds is able to be part of this cutting-edge work. Leeds already has a strong track record of delivering energy saving improvements to thousands of homes in recent years, but we know that plenty more needs to be done. By giving us street-by-street insight about heat loss, this new technology could help us do just that.”

Satellite Vu was “founded to bring satellite technology to address global challenges.” Its images provide valuable insights into economic activity, energy efficiency and disaster response, monitoring the energy efficiency of buildings, the spread of wildfires, the urban heat island effect, and water pollution. Satellite Vu aims to be the Earth’s thermometer from space and help us take critical action towards Net Zero goals.

The company has previously partnered with Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd to build its satellite constellation, and with SpaceX for its upcoming June 2023 launch.

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