There’s been a lot of news throughout the pandemic around the unexpected environmental upsides. Reduced air travel, minimal driving, and a downshift in manufacturing activity are all stimulating emissions reductions, improved air quality, reduced light pollution.
Along with a raft of heartwarming stories of the UK’s rich and diverse wildlife becoming emboldened by our more somnolent nation, beginning to rewild our towns and cities.
Yet we need to remember that these good tidings don’t herald an end to the climate crisis, in fact even with the COVID-caused economic constraints, greenhouse gas concentrations continue on an upward trend, and as the Committee for Climate Change reported before Christmas the UK still needs further dramatic action to fulfill its own Net Zero commitments.
With COP26 less than a year away, and the eyes of the world focussing on the UK’s ability to garner a new global environmental compact, pressure on the UK’s governments – both national and devolved - is building. With the ten-point-plan before Christmas underpinning the bones of our green industrial revolution, we can expect a glut of strategies to flow now - covering how we decarbonise transport, heat, buildings and beyond; to show how the UK will meet, if not exceed its ambition.
Innovation step-change needed
While part of that success will depend on existing technologies deployed further and faster, much will depend on innovation in those technologies, for example, heat pumps with a radically improved coefficient of performance, AND innovation in technologies that have yet to be brought to market (or at least not yet mainstreamed).
And of course, while innovation will be a key stepping-stone, isolated innovations and delivery that fails to take account of the systemic nature of the challenge and solutions, will fail to deliver anything like the scale or rapidity of what’s needed, or possible.
In response to this challenge, the Active Building Centre (ABC) funded by the ISCF Transforming Construction challenge is focused on developing modern methods of design, manufacturing, and deployment for flexible renewable energy systems in buildings and communities.
To break that down into something more manageable – we’re improving how buildings (or networks of them) can capture, manage, store and use energy efficiently from day-to-day, week-to-week, and season-to-season.
The Power of Activation
For the delivery of such a complex plan as the Government’s Green Industrial Revolution, isolated interventions will give only singular, or at least limited, results. Cross-sectoral, multi-domain thinking and action will be key; and working across the construction, energy and mobility sectors is the very fulcrum around which ABC operates. Not least through the work of the Active Building Research Centre, we’re working on fast-paced R&D to deliver rapid innovation into the market across energy products, buildings and systems-thinking.
For example, Active Buildings can integrate EVs into the built environment in an intelligent and controllable manner such that the EV can be charged from 100% renewable energy which has been captured, stored and managed by the building; and in return the EV battery can help provide buffer electrical storage capacity to the building, to allow for income generation potential at times of commercial opportunity in the market.
Indeed, Vehicle to Grid charging – where the car can feed that excess energy directly into the energy system, can add even more flexibility – at times of peak demand the building and vehicle combo can help support the grid, reducing consumption and shifting load.
An Active Building will, by definition, be a highly energy efficient building – built to high fabric standards, reducing its initial energy demand. On top of that, it will have the ability to capture energy from its environment, to use or redeploy elsewhere based on intelligent energy management software platforms.
These are some of the more obvious ways in which ABC can directly drive the ten-point plan outcomes, but it can also deliver more subtle support and nudges to other aspects. Aggregated at scale, with their storage capabilities, Active Buildings can support the rollout of increased offshore wind and other renewables, through their capacity to manage excess supply for later times of higher local demand.
The Activation of wider UK transport infrastructure, for instance across Active ports and transport depots, would deliver rapid and widespread decarbonisation of the mobility sector.
And as a significant fuel of the future, Active Buildings can support the national rollout of hydrogen as a domestic and commercial energy source for heat and mobility - and to that end, the Swansea Bay outpost of the Research Centre will be our cornerstone of hydrogen research and delivery.
At more of an overarching level, by knitting into the wider energy infrastructure itself, adding capacity for energy storage and buffering, a greater deployment of Active Buildings will offer benefits to the transformation of the grid that are necessary to deliver a fully decarbonised economy, not least by offering an alternative approach to constraint management.
There’s no panacea to the climate conundrum, but Active Buildings will certainly help deliver both short term and far-horizon opportunities that go a long way towards our Net Zero country. And hopefully post-COVID-19, we’ll then continue to see an increase in those wildlife incursions into our everyday lives.
You can go to the Innovate UK website
You can go to the UKRI website