Active Building Research Centre

Rapid real world testing of Active Building solutions.

Last updated: 15th March 2021

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Innovation Lead: Marie Greaves

Website:
activebuildingcentre.com


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Summary

Active Buildings incorporate various renewable energy technologies so they are able to generate, store and use power and heat intelligently. How these various technologies work together is key to maximising performance for the shortest payback time. The Active Building Centre has research centres so developers of renewable energy solutions for buildings can test them as part of an integrated system using a plug-and-play approach in both lab and live environments. The facility can create different scenarios, replicate conditions and standards of existing buildings, and create digital twins of buildings - so ideas can be quickly remodelled and refined in the lab and re-tested in real life. The aim is to speed up development of Active Building systems and have the data to make the business case for their widespread adoption.

Innovation type: Digital, Energy, Kit of parts, Manufacturing, Offsite
Organisation type: Research centre

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Project pioneers

Pioneering manufacturers are developing technologies to integrate into buildings to generate, store and manage energy use, putting greater control in the hands of the user.

The problem

Buildings use a around 30% of UK energy (mainly to heat space and water) and contribute around 20% of carbon emissions. Where renewable energy technologies have been used on buildings it has generally been to retrofit a single technology onto the building (such a solar panel on the roof). Making the components of buildings active would mean energy thinking being built in from the start. But this requires a whole building system approach and the evidence to support the business case for spending a little more at the capital stage to benefit in the use phase.

Vision

Active Buildings offer the prospect of users generating, storing and managing their energy flexibly. Active Buildings can have the entire roof made a solar panel or walls that are able to trap outside warmth to use with internal heating systems. With a rapidly changing energy system building, users will be paid to trade or store excess energy as well as slashing the cost of heating and powering the building. With a clear business case, Active Buildings will make a huge contribution to the built environment meeting net-zero and eliminating ~20% of emissions associated with heating building space and water. Manufacture of active components will also deliver growth in high skilled jobs for the UK.

Key Insight

Combining renewable energy technologies in a building to make it active (i.e. able to respond to its environment and the wider energy system) can provide greater benefits than the individual technologies in isolation. The Active Building Centre was founded on expert knowledge about how to integrate active energy components together with modern methods of construction to accelerate commercialisation and adoption of active building technology.

First step

Supporting pioneers in active building solutions required somewhere they could test their technology in combination with other parts of an active building system. The Active Building Centre established a site in Gloucestershire for the research facilities needed, including demonstrator warehouses, laboratories and offices. A second site is also planned in Swansea.

Barrier

Active Building systems perform better when designed to work together. The ability to test systems in real world conditions to allows the overall system to be optimised to pay back the capital investment premium in a shorter time. Integrating components at the build stage offers a greater whole life value than adding unoptimised, individual technologies as later retrofits.

Digital Innovation

Capturing data on the impact of active technology under variable conditions and in real-world settings is critical to industry uptake. The lab and live environments at Berkeley, and soon to be at Swansea, have the ability to model a much greater number of variables and scenarios, and capture huge volumes of data during the rapid cycles of development, testing and refinement. This gives the team huge insights before a single brick is even laid. Results can be incorporated and shared at the touch of a button and live test situations can be recreated as a digital twin, so refinements and improvements back at the lab can be almost immediate and ongoing.

Whole life innovation

The real power of the Active Building Research Centre is its ability to factor whole-life value into the development and deployment of active technologies. The real world, systems-based settings in which these technologies are tested ensures the team has the needs of the end user firmly at the heart of these innovations. Active Buildings, to be truly effective, need to respond to the needs of the user. The new centre helps prove how active systems can meet energy demands, reduce consumption, and support local energy generation. This rich pipeline of technology, rapid development of prototypes and creation of configurator tools for others to use will increase uptake, and make Active Buildings a more viable, sustainable and cost-effective solution for the industry. Not only that, it can help create a blueprint for skills that will be needed in the industry with the widespread adoption of Active Building technology, creating new jobs and attracting new talent to the construction industry.

Lead support

The Active Building Centre (ABC) is part of the wider Transforming Construction Challenge work to deliver buildings with greater certainty (cost and time) and provide better value and performance over their whole life. ABC is key to the construction sector meeting UK's net-zero ambitions and developing the business case for buildings to have integrated active components.

Long Term Vision

The Active Building Research Centre in Berkeley, Gloucestershire, and the planned centre in Swansea, will provide the industry with real-world evidence of active technologies and process when they are used within building systems. This will not only benefit new buildings but can be deployed on upgrades to existing buildings. Its long term ambition is to mitigate two of the biggest societal problems associated with buildings - fuel poverty and the carbon footprint of our built environment.

Human Stories

The Active Building Research Centre is about R&D but it's also about winning hearts and minds. Tushar Kulkarni and his engineering team have been able to realise their 'lab and live' approach to systems testing. This will not only allow them to test more innovations at greater pace, but give the industry the real world evidence it needs to shift its mindset and adopt Active Buildings. End users of the buildings, sometimes overlooked in the construction process, will benefit from Active Buildings engineered around their needs and their energy use. And the industry will benefit from the new skills and jobs active technology can bring.

Powerful Processes

Being able to test and refine more prototypes at greater pace, and track their performance in real world settings has been key to the new site at Berkeley and will be just as critical to the site at Swansea.
By having demonstrators on site means the team can test active energy systems within the fabric of a buildings and make adjustments to replicate different standards over different building ages and types. Use of digital tools and data monitoring sets not only mean a much greater variety of situations can be modelled, but those results can be incorporated and shared at the touch of a button. And live test situations can be immediately recreated in a digital version so refinements and improvements can be almost immediate and ongoing.
This plug-and-play approach is unprecedented in the industry and will revolutionise how Active Building projects are delivered in the future.

Fascinating Facts

Buildings use a around 30% of UK energy (mainly to heat space and water) and contribute around 20% of carbon emissions. Active Buildings can make a huge contribution to the built environment meeting net-zero and eliminating ~20% of emissions associated with heating building space and water.