Envisioning Buildings-as-Energy-Service

A Toolkit to turn buildings from passive users of energy to active generators of energy.

Last updated: 19th November 2021

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Summary

Buildings can be used to generate energy close to where it is used. This is more efficient than drawing energy from a national grid, where as much as 50% can be lost getting to where it is needed. Using buildings as active components in local energy systems, rather than passive consumers of power, is called Buildings-as-Energy Services (BasES). It is an exciting but complex challenge that requires multiple parties to come together to build more integrated infrastructure. That's why a research collaboration, led by Oxford Brookes University, is creating the BasES Toolkit - a framework to help create the rules, processes and regulations for Buildings-as-Energy Services to be a success. It will articulate the benefits, explore the barriers, and transfer knowledge across the energy and construction industries. Because if buildings can play a more active part in sustainable local energy systems, then construction can play a more significant role in reaching net zero.

Innovation type: Energy, Process
Organisation type: Innovative SME, Research centre

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Project pioneers

Dr Maurizio Sibilla from the School of Built Environment at Oxford Brookes University has brought together academics from Oxford Brookes University, the University of Southampton, the Active Building Centre, Energy Systems Catapult and SmartKlub to investigate how to transform buildings from passive energy recipients to active contributors to the energy grid. The collaborative is pioneering community-based energy projects and is the first research project of its kind to involve non-academic partners.

The problem

The UK target to be net zero by 2050 is forcing a move away from fossil-fuel-based, passive energy systems. Micro energy systems is one alternative. They present an opportunity to generate energy where its used rather than distributing it from a national grid. But these new systems need integrated infrastructure to perform well. The current energy infrastructure is fragmented with those operating in energy generation, storage, distribution or use, working in completely separate silos. Not enough is yet known about the best ways for these stakeholders to collaborate to design and embed more integrated micro energy system solutions, and in new construction or existing developments, and there are currently no adequate ways to capture or share knowledge that will support the swift transition that is required. So the issue here is less about technology and more about integration - the actors do not know how best to work together to ensure that the infrastructure works.

Vision

Greater rules, structures and knowledge-sharing around Buildings-as-Energy-Service (BasES) will create more resilient, renewable and - importantly - integrated energy systems. Homes and communities, particularly more remote or isolated ones, will need to be less reliant on the national grid for their energy supply, and it can create new forms of income through localised trading of energy.

Key Insight

On the one hand, turning buildings into BasES will help the construction industry play a greater role in developing a low carbon economy and society. However because Buildings-as-Energy-Service is a reasonably new topic, new entrants to the market are required to produce and operate the new infrastructure required for community scale energy networks - and you cannot provide a technology without technology support. The research team identified that an appropriate Technology Support Net (TSN) is urgently needed to ensure new suppliers work together to define the products and services required for BasES to work. A TSN helps establish new rules, skills, standards and measures, culture and organisational patterns around these emergent systems. So the team set out to develop a BasES Toolkit to help with the establishment and development of a TSN.

First step

The research team started creating a Buildings-as-Energy-Services (BasES) Toolkit for a TSN that would transfer best practice and integrate knowledge across the industry. To be able to develop, test and implement such a toolkit, they started by analysing emergent properties and benefits of Distributed Renewable and Interactive Energy Systems (DRIs). DRIs are essentially small units or buildings, directly connected with the place of energy consumption. Operation of these DRIs, where each building can act as a node, requires a management structure to ensure that energy is delivered to the right place at the right time - a situation that constantly changes in real time. And these self organised energy communities can produce more energy than they need which itself required new modelling scenarios with greater variables. The team quickly realised that the toolkit needed to both help the industry shift its mindset from energy assessment of a single building to considering a group of buildings that operate together. And it needed to ensure that solutions can be scalable and future-proofed, as communities grow and evolve over time and as technology progresses.

Barrier

DRIs are causing the sector to rethink traditional energy neworks. But for micro energy systems to work and be embedded into new construction, the industry needs to move away from fragmented infrastructure and siloed ways of working. The BasES Toolkit will help the sector start seeing buildings as active components within local energy systems. And it will help suppliers know how to design and develop integrated infrastructure that will make them efficient and profitable for communities, and successful in achieving net zero carbon.

Whole life innovation

The content of the Toolkit offers the first step towards understanding the benefits of Buildings-as-Energy-Service (BasES) for a future energy grid. Specifically, the content collected through this research will create a conceptual framework or platform upon which it is possible to map out a new set of products and services for the energy industry which can then be adopted and applied across sectors, including construction. It identifies some of the key areas where an inter and trans-disciplinary approach could be developed.  The framework promotes a better understanding of socio-technical implications in adopting the DRIs vision, and the basis on which to organise a dedicated Technology Support Net (TSN) for DRIs.  The team transferred the conceptual framework into a cognitive tool which was tested, implemented and disseminated with a survey and online focus groups. Gathering opinions from academic and non-academic stakeholders on both the content and function of the toolkit allowed us to improve the quality of it. So far, the BasES Toolkit has been shared as a paper, and via an Open Educational Resource as part of IHMC Public Cmaps. To access it, users need to first download the Cmap-Tools software and follow the instructions on page 4 of the Introduction guide, which has also been published as a booklet.  The toolkit will contribute to a multi-stakeholder, co-designed UK roadmap on Socio-Technical Innovation in DRIs Transition.

Collaborators

The project team was led by Dr Maurizio Sibilla from the School of Built Environment at Oxford Brookes University who is a specialist in energy infrastructure and tools to facilitate collaboration and interdisciplinary knowledge. He brought together academics from the University of Southampton with their expertise in building physics, to help develop energy models focusing on groups of buildings (rather than single buildings as is the norm). The Active Building Centre was fundamental to developing a competitive proposition that could be applied outside of academia and brought in business relationships to test the toolkit via workshops. Energy Systems Catapult added its expertise in business models and decentralised systems, and SmartKlub Ltd helped bring its knowledge of community-scale projects, community optimisation and smart community services.

  • Active Building Centre
  • Energy Systems Catapult
  • Oxford Brookes University
  • SmartKlub
  • University of Southampton

Lead support

The Transforming Construction Challenge supported the project through an accelerated 10-week pilot programme called the Lean Launch programme. The programme helped the partners identify the next stage - essentially to carry out a feasibility study, engage with potential partners and build up its team. The research team continues to work with University of Southampton on refining the modelling and bringing in more social engagement. The team is also working on evolving the BasES Toolkit to include process mining to help all difference suppliers and partners collaborate.

Long Term Vision

The potential of buildings becoming active components in energy systems is important for construction and for our target to meet net zero. This project will help the industry move closer to a vision of Building-as-Energy-Service (BasES) and identify socio-technical factors that might be enabling or inhibiting such a vision.

Human Stories

Building-as-Energy-Service (BasES) will enable buildings to become active generators of energy. They will help communities better understand and control their energy usage; it will help generate revenue for communities from the sale of unused energy; and they draw on renewable or low-carbon technologies that will reduce carbon emissions and creating places that are better for people and for our planet.

Powerful Processes

The toolkit includes the definition of a new set of products and services which are designed and engineered to contribute to a low carbon society. These new products and services are expected to consolidate the concept of the Buildings-as-Energy-Service and to form part of the new energy network.

Fascinating Facts

The BasES Toolkit was tested involving groups of academic and non-academic stakeholders. 18 stakeholders from the UK, 2 from Italy and 2 from China provided feedback to improve the content and usability of the Toolkit.

Benefits

Cost
New economic models will arise from hyper local energy trading, creating localised revenue. Now, local communities can act as energy communities which can take any form of legal entity (an association, a cooperative, a not-for-profit organisation or a small/ medium-sized enterprise). It makes it easier for its citizens, together with other market players, to team up and jointly invest in energy assets.

Emissions
Energy positive buildings acting as DRIs are more controllable so energy demand can be managed more carefully based on known efficiency of the built assets and more consistent energy use. DRI systems are efficient, sustainable and resilient for the following three main reasons:

  1. its dimension is related to real needs and,due to its interactivity (demand/response), it always works at the optimal level
  2. it is based on local material and immaterial resources
  3. it does not depend on external factors but on the capacity of local stakeholders to manage the system

Regional Balance
It is expected that new forms of business models, planning procedures and standards will be developed and integrated. The challenge is that the connections among stakeholders will depend on the local resistance. The intermediary will be the actor who will stimulate the creative capacity to promote new forms of organisations, products and services. This requires a deep-understanding concerning the new socio-technical system is required. To deliver this successfully will require new jobs (energy managers and intermediaries or coordinators) that can understand the system and roles at a community level, a municipality level and at an infrastructure level. Furthermore, DRI facilities will require decentralized businesses to construct, operate and maintain the facilities, creating opportunities for local business and job creation.