Making our homes sustainable is really important to us, and all homes at Oakfield will be powered on a mix of air source heat pumps and solar panels, creating homes that people want and the planet needs. But what does the future of sustainable homes look like? The Active Building Centre (ABC), a pioneering organisation tasked with exploring solutions to some of the UK’s biggest challenges to the construction industry are looking at just that. We spoke to Simon McWhirter, Head of Engagement at ABC to find out more about some of the emerging technologies that they’re testing.
Hi Simon, tell us a bit about ABC and how it was started
“In recent years the UK Government set out the Construction Sector Deal, a partnership between themselves and the UK Construction industry that addresses a need for things like faster built homes and buildings, better quality and better value construction and the decarbonising of the industry. Part of that deal is the Transforming Construction Challenge, which aims to accelerate the shift to those new approaches. The Active Building Centre is funded by UK Research and Innovation as part of that challenge. Our aim is to create an independent national centre that brings together industry, research activities and government to enable the roll out of Active Buildings.
Active Buildings? What are they?
More people and developers are opting for renewable forms of energy to power their home, just as Oakfield has. An Active Building is the evolution of that. A building that captures its own renewable energy, has the ability to store that energy and then uses an intelligent controller - a brain of sorts - to decide how that energy is best used and when – use it, store it or sell it. That brings together three different technology systems. For example, you might have air source heat pumps and solar panels to create energy, a battery unit or cutting-edge heat store to retain the energy created and finally a central digital system that has the ability to decide what to do with the energy.
It can be programmed to meet different objectives too. For instance, if the aim was to help ease the pressure on the national grid, it could store the energy and ensure it’s being used when the grid is under most pressure.
That sounds amazing! How are ABC working to achieve those aims?
We have Research and Development laboratories being set up with demo buildings, so that we can do rapid-cycle testing on different combinations of those three variables mentioned: the capture and storage technologies and the smart control systems. There are so many combinations you could have and with new technologies and MMCs (that’s modern methods of construction) being created all the time, things are transforming constantly. It’s certainly challenging! To help the industry over the longer term, we’re also working on a configurator tool, which industry will be able to use to shape and design the Active energy systems for their buildings – whether at a new build design stage or when upgrading existing buildings.
We’re also testing different business models for how to either drive down costs or amoplify the benefits – to get payback periods right down and make the Active choice an increasingly straightforward one, and looking at current regulations and legislation to see how that too can be used to best effect, shaping the delivery landscape to support or even mandate Active thinking.
What was your initial thoughts when approched about Oakfield?
At Oakfield, the buildings blocks were already in place in terms of great decisions around efficient buildings and renewable energy generation on the site. What we were able to do was elevate good product thinking to more of a systems-based approach. So, amplifying the benefits so that the sum of the whole’s greater than the parts.
So what’s ahead for ABC?
Well we’ll be continuing to test and tweak combinations and analysing their performance to reach the best efficiency possible for different business models. We’ll also be looking at future schemes, and with technologies improving so rapidly, it’s all hands to the pump.