05/07/2018 – Turning Our Buildings Into Power Stations

By Catriona Lingwood, Chief Executive of Constructing Excellence in the North East

Buildings currently account for around 40% of UK energy consumption but over recent years the industry has stepped up, buildings are getting smarter and solar panels, on-site generators and kinetic energy capture are becoming increasingly common as buildings take advantage of available energy.

The first UK office to generate more energy that it consumes has just been completed at Swansea University. The building, known as the Active Office, aims to reduce the energy consumption of buildings in the UK. It combines a range of innovative technologies that will enable it to generate, store and release solar energy in one integrated system. It has a curved roof with integrated solar cells in a laminated photovoltaic panel; a photovoltaic thermal system on the south-facing wall; lithium ion batteries to store the electricity generated and a 2,000-litre water tank to store solar heat. It also has three electric vehicle charging points and the building’s estimated spare annual generation of 8.5MWh would be enough to drive 1.4 times around the world in a Nissan Leaf.

Next to the Active Office is another first, the Active Classroom, the UK’s first energy-positive classroom. In its first year of operation, it generated more than one and half times the energy it consumed. They might be firsts, but with those kinds of results, they certainly shouldn’t be one offs. The Active Office is designed to be easy to replicate, taking only one week to assemble using off-site construction and all the technologies are commercially available now. The two buildings will be linked together and be able to share energy with each other as well as power electric vehicles, showing how the concept may be applied in an energy-resilient solar-powered community.

Wales is paving the way for reducing energy consumption, with plans also being submitted for a new housing development where houses generate their own power. The Homes as Power Stations concept is being led by Neath Port Talbot Council and is one of the biggest Swansea Bay City Deal projects. If approved, it will hopefully kick start a construction programme with a projected investment of over £500m when the concept is operational across the region. The innovative housing project will have buildings that can generate, store and release their own energy, helping to reduce fuel poverty and its impact on health and wellbeing. These houses will be comfortable and affordable to run and have the potential to reduce stress on the local electricity grid.

Turning our buildings into power stations is a concept that works, the Active Classroom shows just that. The Active Office will enable data gathering and evidence building on how it can be applied to an office, helping to refine the design further. Buildings like this help with the Government’s modern industrial strategy to create ‘clean growth’ and fulfil our mission to halve the emissions of new buildings by 2030, something the government, the industry and us at Constructing Excellence are certainly on board with.

By Catriona Lingwood, Chief Executive of Constructing Excellence in the North East