Skip to content

Active Buildings In Practice

The aim of this 20 minute webinar is to give you a brief introduction to the world of Active Buildings. It is delivered by SPECIFIC’s in-house Architect and Design Manager, Joanna Clarke.

Topics covered:

  • What is an Active Building?
  • How Active Buildings fit into the current global and political contexts of climate change
  • Case studies
  • Active Buildings toolkit for designers

Webinar Transcript:

Hello and welcome to SPECIFIC’s Active Buildings in Practice webinar. My name is Joanna Clarke –  I am an Architect and Design Manager at SPECIFIC, where I am responsible for designing our Active Building demonstrators and assisting others in developing their own Active Building projects

  • Slide 1: Title Slide

The aim of this webinar is to give you a brief introduction to the world of Active Buildings. We hope you find it interesting and would encourage you to get in touch if you have any projects you would like to discuss with us.

  • Slide 2: Topics covered

Topics we’re going to cover today – the first thing is to explain what an Active Building is and how they fit into the current global and political contexts of climate change. I will then talk about our Active Building demonstrator case studies and finally will introduce you to our Active Building Toolkit for designers.

  • Slide 3

The definition of an Active Building is one that “supports the wider grid network by intelligently integrating renewable energy technologies for heat, power and transport.”

  • Slide 4

This slide shows the United Nations sustainable development goals we have committed to achieving by 2030. We are already a year into what is termed the Decade of Action – there is a lot of work to do before 2030, particularly in terms of the built environment.

  • Slide 5

In 2021 the UK hosts the 26th Conference of Parties, which will bring countries together to accelerate action towards the goals of the Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. This brings to the fore the urgency to tackle climate change and the need for practical solutions to tackle this through the built environment, which is the focus for our work. The Active Building solution is primarily focused on reducing energy and on the UK’s 2050 target for net zero. Also tying in with the Road to Zero Strategy to decarbonise transport – which originally set out goals to end the sale of internal combustion engine cars and vans from 2040. Last year, this was brought forward to 2030.

As we strive to decarbonise heat in buildings (one of the biggest challenges we face), no new gas boilers will be permitted in housing after 2025 – this is to ensure we meet the Climate Change Act goals, which were amended in 2019, to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 100% below 1990 levels by 2050. Many local authorities, developers and large estate owners have set their own targets to achieve Net Zero before 2050 too. Our university is aiming for 2040.

  • Slide 6

In 2019, the UK construction industry declared a Climate and Biodiversity Emergency, where they  set clear aspirations for building designers, contractors and engineers, to ensure the buildings we design and deliver for clients respond to the climate emergency. Last time I checked, there were 1098 signatories to the architects declare register.

  • Slide 7

So how might Active Buildings help us meet some of our targets…

To ensure a stable electricity supply as we move forward, as both heating and transport are decarbonised, we need flexible energy systems, that combine storage and smart controls, enabling control of both import and export of energy to and from buildings, to help balance the energy grid – and Active Buildings offer a solution to do this.

There are 6 core principles for Active Buildings – the first two are concerned with reducing energy consumption in buildings, the second two focus on optimising energy consumption by including energy generating technologies and energy storage. And the last two focus on the integration of buildings with the wider energy network, including use of EV charging to help balance supply and demand.

  • Slide 8

We have developed a few new-build demonstrator projects since 2014 and have a large industrial building which has been used as a testbed for new technologies since 2011. Today I’m just going to talk about the Active Classroom and the Active Office

  • Slide 9

Our first full size building demonstrator was the Active Classroom which we constructed in 2016 – very experimental, including pre-commercial technologies combined with more established technologies. For example, a transpired solar collector on the south elevation generates warm air, which is supplied to an ASHP and MVHR unit; the first building integrated photovoltaic (PV) roof installation for a Welsh company called BIPVCo; a new PV window developed by NSG and novel electrical storage devices – firstly saltwater and more recently replaced with flow batteries. Also, trialled a new form of construction and an electric underfloor heating system developed and manufactured at SPECIFIC

  • Slide 10

The University of Bath is one of our academic partners and they have a PhD student currently undertaking a detailed LCA of our buildings, as a precursor to developing a tool or method to enable a simple LCA to be carried out at the start of a project.

These pie charts show the proportion of embodied carbon in different elements of a building. And highlight the biggest main elements contributing to embodied carbon – for example, it is important not to underestimate the amount of embodied carbon in building services, which is often assumed to be low and is more difficult to measure, due to lack of available information

  • Slide 11

Looking at the high-level numbers he has got so far, it’s clear to see which elements have the biggest impacts. And the figures show how low the operational carbon is in comparison to the embodied carbon, which is largely thanks to the use of renewables

  • Slide 12

Some of the challenges we’ve encountered so far are worth highlighting:

But it is good to know that in terms of carbon, we achieved the 2020 target, even though it was constructed in 2016 and embodied carbon wasn’t one of our design parameters at the time. In terms of energy consumption, we align with 2030 targets, which is what we’d expect

  • Slide 13

The second case study is the Active Office.

In 2017, we were awarded funding from Innovate UK to construct a second building next to the classroom. This time, the building was two storeys and had to demonstrate repeatability. It is of modular construction, by a company called Wernick, who are based just a few miles away from the university campus. The newest technology on this building is the combined solar thermal and PV system on the south elevation, which were developed by a UK company called Naked Energy. We collect a lot of data from these buildings, and this display screen situated in the entrance foyer, visualises the data collected to the building occupants and visitors. One of the key things we are doing on this building is controlling import and export of energy in relation to energy prices or carbon intensity of the grid at any time. To enable this, energy storage and smart controls are essential

  • Slide 14

This shows different ways we can visualise the data. We can look at the environmental conditions in all the rooms, and we have lots of heat meters which are useful for fast fault detection

  • Slide 15

While our focus with the design of the building was on technology integration and systems optimisation, many of the design and construction decisions were made with embodied carbon in mind. For example, the inclusion of significant self-generation of electricity and heat; use of offsite construction and efficient design: and storage systems to provide flexibility in time of use for significant energy loads. The design was very centred around reduced energy consumption, and this in itself drives in use carbon reduction.

During manufacture and construction, the significance of using offsite construction and local manufacture reduced the embodied carbon of the materials used, and surplus materials were donated to community groups through the Recipro Wales scheme. The vastly reduced site time also added to the reduction in embodied carbon, especially around site works and significant use of local supply chains.

In use carbon intensity forms part of the control strategy, we monitor the intensity of the electricity grid and calculate the battery carbon intensity; and one of the control strategies is based on reducing overall carbon emissions in use, the detail and impact of which I’ll outline next.

  • Slide 16

There are two primary challenges when tackling Carbon intensity in use:

  • Energy Use reduction – Using the extensive data available we were able to clearly identify systems for energy reduction, sometimes this was based on better control, set points, timing, or set back temperatures. Other times this involved modifying the systems to enable lower temperature heating while maintaining the heating power. On a rolling 365-day basis these changes produced an 11.5% reduction in energy usage – approx. 61kWh/meter squared (prior to lockdown last March!)
  • Understand the relationship between energy and Carbon intensity for the storage elements. By considering the battery as a bucket, into which you put energy and associated carbon during charge cycles, when you discharge the battery, you are able to calculate a g/kWh over what can be a complex energy source mix of both solar PV and Grid energy. This method takes into account the grid carbon intensity at point of charge. Significant solar energy stored reduces the carbon intensity of the battery, charging from the grid moves the battery intensity towards the Grid value (usually increasing as in this example)

To understand the actual carbon intensity in use of the building we need to look at energy consumption and the source of that energy for each 30-minute interval. The graph on the right shows a Cumulative sum illustrating that at present we have achieved an 18% reduction in carbon emission for the first quarter of 2020 (prior to lockdown)

And we’ve identified further steps we can take to continue with energy reduction (for example, we anticipate a further 1MWh reduction by examining the lighting and the hot water generation). Not only that, but by taking more active control of the charge and discharge cycle, we can at any point in time compare the grid and battery carbon and determine whether to charge or discharge the battery using a sliding scale.

  • Slide 17

We are working with one of our partner projects, SUNRISE, which is also led by Swansea university, to design active classroom buildings for rural villages in India. An active classroom building could provide massive support to these rural villages, which have unreliable, unstable and intermittent electricity supply – self-generation is of real value here. The first building demonstrator will be constructed later this yearSlide 18

  • Slide 18

So, moving on to the Toolkit – this is something we have recently developed to share our experience and learnings from designing, developing and operating our own Active Buildings and to aid the design of further Active Buildings. this consists of a suite of different documents, most of which are available on our website here, while some are still under development. I’ll briefly run through these documents now…

  • Slide 19

The first document is an AB Code of Conduct which sets out clear expectations for an Active Building project and could accompany contractual documents for an Active Building project.

  • Slide 20

We have a short induction to Active Buildings, which provides a broad overview of SPECIFIC and the AB approach. We suggest this is viewed by anyone embarking on an Active Building project.

  • Slide 21

The Active Building Design Guide describes the key principles of an Active Building and provides key design considerations aligned to each principle.

  • Slide 22

The Glossary is meant as an accompaniment to the other documents within the Toolkit, providing descriptions of all the acronyms, units of measurement, relevant policies, etc, that will be referred to in the other documents.

  • Slide 23

We have got a Technology Showcase document that gives some examples of technologies we’ve either used in our Active Buildings or are aware of that may enable the Active Building principles to be achieved. We will be updating this regularly, as and when we come across potentially suitable technologies.

  • Slide 24

We’ve got a series of Active Building Case Studies, which we’ll be adding to. The SHED case study has been developed as part of our 10-year celebrations, giving an overview of the different demonstration projects we have developed at the SHED.

We will be adding to these with short case studies on aspects of each building, e.g., thermography, battery system development, the resistive heating system, optimisation strategies, demand side response, carbon reduction measures.

  • Slide 25

We have collated all the questions we have been asked in previous seminars into one document, where the questions have been grouped under headings, such as costs, carbon, risk, retrofit, etc.

  • Slide 26

We are currently developing a series of checklists to use at each of the RIBA Plan of Work stages of a project, to assist project design and delivery teams in making sure they have considered all aspects of an Active Building necessary at each of the stages. We are developing this by trialling it on a current live project.

  • Slide 27

Other documents we’re currently developing include monitoring specifications for different building types and an energy dashboard specification. We’ll upload these once they’re ready.

  • Slide 28

I just wanted to mention here that researchers at the University of Bath are also developing an AB Code, which will provide a way to rate an Active Building using a standardised approach, like other environmental assessment methods used for buildings. This is in its early stages of development, but there is a reference to their latest publication here which provides more detail on their approach.

  • Slide 29

And that brings us to the end of this webinar, just leaving me to say thank you for listening and please get in touch if you have any queries.

Share this post: