Our Story

Towards a greener future.

The start of the journey

Ty Solar

2014

In 2014 we decided to build a home that would eliminate the reliance on fossil fuels and eliminate fuel poverty. We started with a very simple premise, that the sun was the biggest source of untapped energy in the universe and that we should seek every means possible by this use of technology and astute design to maximise this celestial power source. We decided to throw out every preconception on building a home and start with a clean sheet of paper. The result was TY Solar (means Solar House).

Loving the earth

As far as enjoying planet earth as our natural habitat, time is not in our favour. Within the next couple of decades we will know if this planet has passed the terrifying point of 1.5 deg C of warming. If it does pass this threshold, our days of ease are numbered.

The world is grappling with ways to reduce carbon emissions to zero and avoid this point of no return when cities will drown, islands vanish and nations become ungovernable. Whilst much work is being done to find technical solutions, the bigger challenge remains the human one. How do we transform ourselves? How do we change minds and hearts, unhelpful social attitudes and ingrained, destructive practices? It is our belief that this deeper transformation will only come about when people discover that sustainable living is not only better for future generations, but it makes you feel better and is more enjoyable. Everybody counts. Everybody can make a contribution. We cling to the believe that Chaos Theory, in which little things together can bring about a big change, will be the only way to bring about the massive change we need.

A warm comfortable home is one of the most primeval and fundamental requirements of human living. We created our business in a humble cowshed which acted as our factory and from where we created our first prototype and then went on to create the first zero carbon Solar village in Wales. With dozens of homes being rolled out, we believe we are well along the road to zero and those who live in our homes will be joining us in this long but necessary journey.

Road to Zero

What is zero carbon?

Zero carbon is a bit like zero degrees absolute, the theoretical temperature which is so low that it cannot actually be reached. Zero carbon is like that because to make a house requires energy derived from fossil fuels somewhere along the process. So we’re talking about how low in carbon we can get and then how do we find ways to offset it. Very much like Geoff Bezos hopes to make Amazon carbon neutral on a global scale, or how Dr Jury Witschnig hopes to do the same at BMW. By building in solar panels, for example, we can produce carbon free energy for the lifetime of the dwelling. Each home that we build saves 70,000 tonnes of carbon over say 60 years, which is the equivalent of planting 5000 trees. The scale of the problem facing us is formidable. CO2 does not have national barriers. Politicians are limited in what they can or are willing to legislate for. But as a species we cannot stand by, wringing our hands and letting the planet fry.

vision for the future

How did we get to this point?

Steam and the industrial age unleashed the huge power of fossil fuels. A ton of easily accessible coal can generate 2.5 Mw of energy. That would take a steam train 300 miles at 60mph. That way we got blind sided by fossil fuels. What we missed was that each ton of coal produced nearly three tons of CO2 that goes up into our fragile atmosphere. And no one accounted for it. A single American power station burns 7 million tons of coal per annum creating nearly 20 million tons of CO2. We have been fly-tipping our way to disaster. Large corporations were built on the barrel of oil and we used it in our homes, cars and factories. No one bothered about the gazillions of tons of CO2 being discharged into the atmosphere. Shareholders gorged on the profits, free to pollute our air. We ignored the power of the sun. The sun is the biggest nuclear power plant in the universe! And it is free. Fossil fuels have blinded us to nature’s most energy abundant asset. In one hour the sun provides the total annual energy needs of this planet for a year. That’s right. Crazy, isn’t it? Two French scientists discovered the solar cell in the 19th Century yet it took 150 years for NASA engineers to dust off the findings and develop solar technology. Many of our ancestors knew about the advantage of south facing homes and the principle of passive gain long before it was called that. Slowly we’re developing ways of capturing that energy and storing it but nearly not as fast as we need to. If just a fraction of the profits from fossil fuels were spent on capturing and storing solar energy we’d be well on the road to zero carbon.

Nature

Homes from trees.

Trees do some of the dirty work of taking CO2 out of the atmosphere. The fast growing pine trees do it faster than slow growing deciduous and hard wood trees. The softer woods are also excellent for making homes as they have excellent insulation properties. Provided we plant lots of trees for the future, we not only take carbon out of the atmosphere but we use a low carbon material to build houses. Bricks, mortar, concrete and steel, all currently used materials, are carbon intensive; they take masses of dirty energy to produce. China pours more cement every three years than the US has done in the whole 20th Century. Every man’s home is his castle. In the west, real estate accounts for 60% of all mainstream assets and has become the most important asset class for citizens. People want their homes good and solid despite the environmental cost. You’ve all heard of the stories about how good brick homes saved the three little pigs from the big bad wolf and how the Fire of London spread so easily because the buildings were made of wood. These prejudices die hard, mainly through ignorance. Despite the fact that modern timber homes are fireproof and can last for as long as you want them to, lenders, valuers and buyers have been reluctant to accept an all timber home in Britain. Building a home is a significant capital outlay. We set out to ensure that much of that expenditure remains local. Timber is sourced from local woodlands, the workforce includes apprentices from the local colleges and our suppliers are located within a 25 mile radius of the housing project. This approach not only achieves a low carbon footprint but also has a multiplier for initial capital outlay.

Solar

The home as a power station

We decided that that the only way to begin our journey towards building a zero carbon home was to develop a prototype based on the best practice from around the world. Solar energy had to be the key in providing infinite amounts of free energy. Wouldn’t it be great if our home was both a dwelling and a power station? Lots of little power stations could take the pressure away from the large generators. In fact, we haven’t changed the way we generate and distribute electricity since Thomas Edison. Unlike the way computing moved from mainframes, to servers and desktops, electricity generation is still in the dark age. But there is change in the air with Smart Grids being developed around the world. Disrupting the cycle of inefficiency Our building materials would have to be sustainable. Timber was the obvious choice because of its role in capturing carbon. We saw the opportunity in breaking that destructive vicious cycle. Larch is a wonderful material for cladding the homes using its own natural resins. We found recycled newsprint, treated to become fireproof, was a good insulating material. We built the walls of sufficient thickness to reduce heat losses to a minimum. Our doors and windows were made by excellent local joiners, in keeping with our policy of keeping most of our capital expenditure and supply chains local. In fact we worked out that for every pound spent on building a home we could get 2.2 times the value. We would use a pattern book approach to aid manufacturing and replication. The thought of Henry Ford’s famous mantra of ‘only in black’ Model T came to mind. By keeping our designs modular and manufacturing our homes before we get to our construction site we are able to speed up the process of building homes.

The technical stuff

Disrupting the cycle of inefficiency

Our prototype was constructed to demonstrate the workings of a low carbon home. Firstly, the house had to point south to maximise the energy from the sun during the day, very much like the feng sui of house design. All the windows and doors are on the south side to allow passive solar gain during the hours of daylight. 80% of the space heating comes in this way. It’s from the sun. It costs nothing. The walls are packed tight with paper insulation holding in much of the heat for several hours after darkness. Solar PV panels on the roof provide electrical energy to run electrical appliances and store surplus energy in radiators and batteries. The batteries allow the occupier to manage their energy efficiently. The walls are breathable preventing the build-up of moisture or damp.

The cow shed

Growing up

Our small fledgling, born in a cowshed firm, has come of age. Already we see an intense interest in what we are doing and In the words of Oscar Wilde ‘imitation is the sincerest form of flattery’. Today each Ty Solar home comes with a 12-year builders guarantee and is made by some of the best craftspeople in West Wales. Our homes combine both modern materials technology and electronics with simplicity in design. Everyone we employ is proud to work on our projects and we hope you will join us on this important journey towards zero.

Dr. Glen Peters
Founding CEO, Western Solar Ltd