I’m sure most, if not all, architects (and other built environment professionals) reading this will be familiar with the Passivhaus model, but how many understand the term ‘Active Buildings’?
A relatively new approach to design, Active Buildings are those which combine efficient fabric, ioptimised controls and most importantly, smart energy capture, storage and use. In essence, it’s an intuitive systems-based concept empowering the property owner or occupier to have more control over their energy consumption.
As we look to rapidly decarbonise, tackle climate change and reach net-zero CO2 emissions by 2050, Active Buildings offer a potential solution, especially as buildings account for around 40% of current emissions in the UK. As outlined in a recent report by Policy Connect, if we’re going to have any chance of meeting targets, we must address the make-up of our homes urgently.
The retrofit challenge is a complex one, demanding a strategic vision and careful planning. However, there is no reason why we cannot rapidly change the way we think about new build structures.
Active Buildings integrate renewable technologies for heat, power and transport, with novel ways of controlling and releasing energy. These buildings have the potential to be energy self-sufficient, and when connected with other Active Buildings in a network, could have the ability to trade energy.
Emissions can subsequently be reduced through incorporating efficient, sustainable systems. Following a well-trodden sustainable design route, the design process needs to consider the fabric of the building first to make it as energy efficient as possible. There are ways to power buildings through solar thermal and solar energy, as well as integrating other technologies such as controllable electrical underfloor heating.
Fundamentally, it’s about design, energy generation and storage and ultimately about hoiw we measure, control and optimise the use of that energy.
Energy modelling looks at what can be achieved in terms of efficiency. The model calculates likely energy consumption by looking at the building’s occupancy, number of computers, operational hours and so on. Once energy usage is calculated, it’s about figuring out what that building can achieve, taking into account the size of the roof, the floor space, the location etc. Finally, it comes down to cost and value. This means it’s not a simple upfront calculation about initial costs, but rather a prudent approach to ongoing costs and increased asset value.
At this stage, the concept of Active Buildings is gradually gaining traction amongst policy makers and the construction industry, but there is still a way to go. Much like modern methods of construction (MMC), we need to encourage early adopters across the sector.
For architects and specifiers it’s a golden opportunity to rethink our urban areas against a backdrop of significant growth in energy consumption and increasing pressure on the grid. Active Buildings alleviate these twin concerns.
Simon McWhirter is head of engagement at Active Building Centre