#011 Fuel poverty is a huge global problem.

In Europe, about 100 million people can’t afford to heat their homes properly. This also comes with a huge amount of carbon emission: Building space heating is responsible for 36% of CO2 emissions across Europe this is equivalent with 1,176 million tonnes of CO2 emission! 

That’s where Agnes Czako, Co-Founder and Managing Director of AIREX, and her team saw a huge gap in the market. They developed a system of air bricks to provide open routes for air within buildings.

“We were determined to find a way of balancing energy efficiency & indoor air quality: that’s exactly what we do at Airex!”

Watch their Circular Story here!

Coming up in this story:

  • How important indoor air quality is;

  • What you can do at home to create a better indoor air environment;

  • What an intelligent air brick is;

  • What the benefits are for residents and landlords.

BALANCING EFFICIENCY AND QUALITY

“We identified a huge untapped potential in the energy-saving impact of controlling air-bricks. These air bricks (air vents) were originally built in to provide natural ventilation to the building (53 million homes across Europe)”. 

  • Air Bricks which are constantly open can lead to c. 15% of the homes’ heat loss
  • Blocked Air Bricks cause damp and poor indoor air quality, which can cause respiratory illnesses (such as asthma). Especially now as a result of covid19. 

SIMPLY LIFTING MILLIONS OF PEOPLE OUT OF FUEL POVERTY

Energy poverty is a widespread problem across Europe. According to the European Union, between 50 and 125 million people are unable to afford proper indoor thermal comfort. Poorly insulated, leaky, energy inefficient buildings require more energy to heat, resulting in higher operational carbon emissions. While new-built homes are constructed to a higher energy efficiency standard, the majority of Europe’s buildings were built before the second world war, and therefore are very inefficient to heat. 

Retrofit energy efficiency products (such as insulation) are either too expensive with long payback times, which prevents market uptake, or if they are cost-effective, their market is already saturated. 

“We would like to see Airex deployed in millions of homes across Europe and beyond in the next decade: lifting millions of people out of fuel poverty and reducing carbon emissions. That’s what success means to us”. 

“ If Airex was used everywhere in Europe, it could save 370 million tonnes of CO2 emission!” – Agnes Czako

AIREX IS AN INTELLIGENT AIR BRICK 

AirEx is an ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT) enabled innovative smart ventilation control that reduces the home’s heat loss by 15%, with a c. 2-3 years payback.  It is basically an “intelligent airbrick” that replaces the home’s existing air bricks to help improve the thermal efficiency of the building fabric. The in-built smart sensors analyse environmental conditions (e.g. temperature, humidity, air quality), while its cloud-based algorithms responsively regulate the airflow by adjusting the aperture of the vent. It uses AI to predict occupants’ behaviour and weather pattern for more efficient air flow optimisation across the home. The vents communicate via radio frequency with a wi-fi-connected AirEx hub, through which data can be viewed by the landlord or the occupant.  

BENEFITS OF A SMART AIR BRICK

  • It uses 15% less energy to warm up residents’ rooms, which means huge savings on their energy bills;
  • It also stops cold draughts, so lower temperatures feel more comfortable for residents;
  • And the system also detects indicators of mould or damp, allowing preventative maintenance for social landlords.

FIGHTING FUEL POVERTY 

I have always been passionate about sustainability and environmental issues. I am originally from Hungary and 9 years ago I moved to the UK to immerse myself in cleantech and the energy/built environment sector. I have been also concerned about social inequality issues and therefore it has naturally become crucial to my activities to tackle Fuel Poverty.

Before founding AirEx, I have been the lead assessor of an energy assessment organisation when I led the delivery of 30,000 energy assessments in the most vulnerable, fuel poor communities of London social housing. It was a truly shocking, but also a very eye-opening experience to see what people’s real problems are when they struggle to heat their homes and also suffer from poor indoor air quality. This was the experience that ultimately inspired me and my team to develop a solution that tackles this problem.

How do you innovate or collaborate with partners within the ecosystem?

We work with a variety of partners: social landlords and energy companies (B2B) and research organisations / universities who support our savings validations.

Social Landlords:

(Local Authorities, Housing Associations) directly, who in turn benefit from A) improved energy efficiency rating of their housing stock and B) real-time property diagnostics data that helps them reduce their maintenance costs. 

Energy companies:

Energy companies are mandated to spend hundreds of millions of euros per year to meet their carbon emission reduction targets: Airex can cost-effectively help them achieve this goal, by being one of the lowest cost/CO2 saved products. Airex received approval from Oftem (UK energy regulator) to be adopted under the ECO (energy company obligation) scheme.

We also believe in the power of peer-to-peer support: we are lucky to be located in a co-working space specifically set up for sustainable / circular businesses.

Circular Quote
of the day:

“Consume less energy, less water, less ‘goods’  – to help the planet”.

Agnes Czako
Founder of AirEx

PURPOSE OR PROFIT?

I believe that a successful circular business is primarily driven by purpose, without compromising on profit: the two should work in conjunction with each other, rather than in contrast. It is important that addressing a sustainability goal (a “purpose”) is not an unnecessary ‘box-ticking’ exercise. In the corporate world, the argument is that the risk of inaction (continuing ‘business as usual’ ) will ultimately cost them more (both carbon and money) than the cost of acting now. This is mainly due to long term resource scarcity”.  

In the context of startups, it is even simpler: inaction will ultimately cost someone a lot of money so it allows us to build our entire business model on addressing these long term risks! Also, this is about future proofing, building resilience. If your business is such that it somehow doesn’t address ANY of the sustainable development goals, then there is a very high risk that it simply becomes obsolete over time …” 

What about the Circularity of AirEx Airbrick?

“Our ultimate environmental impact is that the system directly reduces operational carbon emissions coming from buildings (space heating of buildings); 370 million tonnes of carbon emission across Europe. 

But of course, because we have a small hardware product, it does mean that there is a small amount of embodied carbon emission that goes into producing it, but this is order of magnitudes smaller than the operational carbon emission that our product can achieve over its lifetime (i.e. hundreds of times larger savings than emissions). 

It is also important to remember that sustainability / circular economy is not a seperate ‘sector’ –  it is overarching across all industries. In a few years’ time I would like to see most industries becoming more sustainable / circular.”

If you could have a gigantic billboard with anything on it what would it say and why?

“Consume less energy, less water, less ‘goods’  – to help the planet”.

What changes have you recently made regarding your own personal lifestyle and why? 

“Luckily, I was being brought up in a way that we (as children) had to be very conscious about using energy, water, food – basically: never waste anything. – this was the “norm” in the post-communist Eastern Europe in the early 90s – which is where I am from. 

A new habit is that I turned vegetarian 5 years ago. Purely on the basis of GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions coming from meat production. Since then a lot of my close friends also turned vegetarian. In London, it’s actually not even difficult – there is so much variety! 

And I am very proud that I convinced a large number of friends to change careers to get involved in sustainability!“

Did we get you interested in microplastics and want to see more?

Check out the Circular Story of ECOFARIO. Coming soon: Outlander Materials and Made of Air.
All fighting plastic pollution.

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Circular Quote of the Day

Do something that makes your kids proud.

Dr. Sebastian Porkert, Founder ECOFARIO

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