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The Active Building Centre Showcase Demonstrated the Need and Opportunity For Delivering Low Carbon Buildings

As world leaders convened in Sharm El-Sheikh for COP27, it was fantastic to take part in the Active Building Centre Showcase event which had a packed agenda of leaders in low carbon technologies and solutions for buildings from across Wales and the UK.

We heard about action that is being taken right now and solutions that are already available to us, proving that we have the ability to create a low carbon built environment without delay. The urgency by which we need to take action was clear and, rather than seeing this as a challenge, the enthusiastic speakers and audience viewed delivering low carbon buildings as more of an opportunity. An opportunity to improve our built environment for the better of everyone, through creating comfortable, low carbon buildings with low running costs – adopting the 3Cs which underpin the ABC’s work – comfort, carbon and cost.

We saw real examples of buildings and community developments that proved the Active Building approach works to reduce carbon and cost, whilst creating comfortable buildings and sustainable communities for all.

This event highlighted the need for an organisation such as the ABC, to push for a better understanding of energy consumption in buildings, for more knowledge on building performance, to accelerate the use of novel low carbon technologies, and to support the construction industry in its endeavours to reach net zero.

There is a massive demand for low carbon solutions now, with decarbonisation at the top of everyone’s agendas, and the appetite for deploying innovative low carbon solutions has never been greater or more urgent. We heard about the incredible opportunities we have to scale up novel low carbon technologies, but it was also clear that we need to find a way to get solutions to the market much quicker than we are. While it is time for governments to focus down on reducing our carbon emissions, we cannot (and need not) wait for top down policies and regulations, we need to get on with this now, and we saw many examples of how this is possible.

We heard how investment in skills and local resources is critical – not only do we need to upskill the existing labour force in low carbon technologies, but we need to train new skilled labour into the industry too, and the ABC are well placed to contribute to developing skills programmes.

Some of the low carbon technology solutions we were presented with included: smart air bricks, which combine adjustable vents, sensors and smart algorithms to optimise airflow; infrared fabrics that can be installed behind plasterboard to provide low surface temperature heating solutions; and zero emission boilers. And, crucially, we saw some technologies under development – Dr Jon Elvins brought along some of his team’s “magic beads”, which represent the extensive research into long term storage of heat energy underway at SPECIFIC. This latest technology uses alginate, combined with salts and graphite to form small beads which, once charged – through drying the salts using solar energy or waste heat from industrial processes – can store heat indefinitely. This heat energy is only released once damp air is passed through the material to rehydrate the salts, or discharge the energy in the form of heat, and this can be used for space heating or hot water. This offers a low cost, low carbon heating solution, flexible enough to take heat from different sources and store this for use wherever and whenever it is needed. Imagine capturing waste heat from an industrial process in containers and distributing that to housing – truly game changing in terms of reducing fuel poverty and delivering comfort to people at very little costs and with very low carbon emissions.

All in all a hugely informative and inspiring day, which highlighted the need for an Active Building approach to help us deliver a low carbon built environment. Let’s get on with this.

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