The Active Office delivers active energy by using a range of solar technologies to generate, store and release energy in one, optimised system that is integrated into the building. By using the data collected and identifying improvements in operation and control a 12% energy reduction has been achieved over the first year of operation. With the latest 12 months of data prior to lockdown showing net neutral energy performance, and further savings have been identified targeting a net energy positive status once normal operation resumes.
Not only has energy reduction been achieved, but by actively controlling when import and export occurs it has demonstrated the ability to actively reduce operating costs and carbon emissions when compared to uncontrolled generation and export. Some building types could produce excess energy which they could sell to the grid to generate income, use to charge electric vehicles, save in batteries or share with other buildings that need more energy than they can produce themselves.
For the first time it is showing that a building can work in harmony with the grid. It also acts as a platform to deliver other collaborative projects, such as a demand side response (DSR) project with Evergreen Smart Power, which demonstrates how a building can act as a virtual power plant (VPP) as part of a flexible energy system.
The Active Office was made possible by extensive collaboration between SPECIFIC and its supply chain partners, including Wernick Buildings, Dulas, Naked Energy and BIPVCo. Together, they were able to deliver a unique building incorporating innovative technologies with well-established technologies, in parallel streams. The detailed mechanical and electrical design was ongoing while the modules were being manufactured and the ground works completed. By sharing data and lessons learnt through detailed case studies and presenting at industry events, they were able to impart their knowledge to the wider industry.
Although construction costs for the Active Office were higher than a typical building of this type, this can be balanced by the fact that operational costs are lower. The operational costs of the Active Office were found to be 43% of operational costs of a standard office of the same size.
In addition, the building control systems enable energy to be imported at low prices and exported, ensuring further savings through use of an optimised control philosophy. As technology costs come down and access to innovative energy markets increases, buildings such as these have the opportunity to operate as revenue generators in the future. This project enables the operational savings to be explored and proven, paving the way for future uptake.
Use of renewable energy generation, combined with energy storage and smart control strategies enables a reduction in overall carbon emissions both directly (from energy used in the building and vehicles) and indirectly (by selecting when to import or export energy to the grid depending on the carbon intensity of the grid at any time).
Initial data looking at carbon emissions from electricity at the time of use shows a 50% reduction over a 9-month period. As the control strategy is refined it looks likely to achieve the anticipated carbon savings in operation.
A Life Cycle Cost Report demonstrated the building uses 3.5 times less carbon than a typical office building of the same size. SPECIFIC is now working with researchers at the University of Bath, where a PhD researcher employed by the ABC Research Programme is undertaking a Life Cycle Analysis of the Active Office using the standard RICS methodology.
Many of the partners within the project have benefitted from the successful delivery of the building and the ongoing platform capability is enabling further research and knowledge to be developed. It is a showcase for various innovations. For example: one of the more novel products, the Naked Energy Virtu PVT tubes, has secured £5m of private investment, primarily as a result of the confidence provided by seeing the product delivered, installed and in operation; Wernick Buildings use the building as a showcase project highlighting the benefits of offsite modular construction and the opportunities for integration for technology and control. The Active Office is also used as a platform within an Innovate UK-funded project (FRED) examining the benefits of domestic demand side response, as well as other emerging collaborations examining virtual power plant control and evolution of small-scale energy trading opportunities.
Use of off-site construction significantly reduces project time – the Active Office was conceived, designed and constructed within 8 months. The condensed design period, while not preferred, encouraged swift decision-making and allowed the whole team to work closely together to develop appropriate solutions.
The construction period was reduced significantly due to the use of offsite construction, which enabled the main superstructure of the building to be constructed simultaneously with the substructure works, saving at least one month of the construction programme. Further time savings were realised through the use of the building integrated photovoltaic (BIPV) roof panels. The system used on the Active Office combined the PV with the roof covering, which is quicker than using traditional solar panels which have to be added to a roof after its installation.
In terms of whole-life value, the focus for Active Buildings is on energy supply and how this can maintain a more comfortable, low-emission building over the long term. For energy supply, the building has already demonstrated how it can work in harmony with the grid - using, storing and redistributing energy.
Access to smart and time-of-use tariffs will enable revenue savings or even income generation in the near future, however the value in terms of carbon emissions in operation have also been projected and proven in the short term.
The Active Office is being used to test different ways of controlling energy flows to and from the building, responding to grid carbon intensity (CI) or energy prices. The vast amount of data being collected enables the building to act as a flexible platform for demonstration, testing of integration and operation of new technologies or products and services, such as the virtual power plant being developed by the FRED project.