SPECIFIC is a UK Innovation and Knowledge Center led by Swansea University in Wales. Dave Worsley, an engineering professor at the university and the research director for SPECIFIC, says the work of the center involves linking research with real world applications. “SPECIFIC’s research focuses on developing solar technologies and the processing techniques that take them from the lab to full-scale buildings,” he says.
Last year, SPECIFIC designed and built its first structure, an energy positive classroom. Now after a year in operation, the results are in. The classroom building created 50% more energy than it consumed. The building features include a curved roof with integrated solar cells — showing the flexible nature of the laminated photovoltaic panel, a photovoltaic thermal system on the south facing wall, which is capable of generating both heat and electricity from the sun in one system, lithium ion batteries to store the electricity generated, and a 2,000 liter water tank to store solar heat.
“With our building demonstration program, we are testing and proving the ‘buildings as power stations’ concept in real buildings, which are used every day. The data obtained from these buildings is then fed back into our fundamental research into solar energy technologies and used to accelerate and steer their development,” Worsley tells Science Daily.
Using the data collected from the classroom building, SPECIFIC has now constructed an energy positive office building next door. The two buildings are networked so their energy saving systems can reinforce each other. Together, they can recharge electric vehicles, demonstrating how the concept could be applied in an energy resilient solar powered community.
The Active Office has been designed to be easy to reproduce. It is quick to build, taking only one week to assemble, with much of the construction taking place off site. It also uses only technologies that are commercially available now, which means there is no reason why they could not be used on any new building.
Kevin Bygate, CEO of SPECIFIC, says,
“Offices are enormous consumers of energy, so turning them energy-positive has the potential to slash fuel bills and dramatically reduce their carbon emissions. Turning our buildings into power stations is a concept that works, as the Active Classroom shows. This new building will enable us to get data and evidence on how it can be applied to an office, helping us refine the design further. The Active Office is a first, but it isn’t a one-off. It is quick to build using existing supply chains, and uses only materials that are already available. This is tomorrow’s office, but it can be built today.”
Buildings currently account for around 40% of UK energy consumption. This new building, known as the Active Office, points the way to a new generation of low-carbon offices which produce their own supply of clean energy. The Active Office was funded by Innovate UK with support from Swansea University and the European Regional Development Fund through the Welsh Government. It is sponsored by Tata Steel and Cisco.
“It’s difficult to overstate the potential of developing a building that powers itself. The concept could genuinely revolutionise not only the construction sector but completely change how we create and use energy, so the opening of the Active Office in Swansea is an exciting step forward,” says Ian Campbell, executive chairman of Innovate UK.
“Developing technologies like those demonstrated in the SPECIFIC Active Office can play a strong role in the Government’s modern industrial strategy to create ‘clean growth’ and fulfill our mission to halve the emissions of new buildings by 2030.”
The development of energy positive buildings is big news indeed. A few years ago, net zero was considered the Holy Grail for buildings and of course it is still a worthwhile goal. But energy positive buildings are an exciting innovation that could provide an important new way to lower carbon emissions by reducing the amount of electricity needed to power buildings of all types.
The fact that the SPECIFIC program was partially supported by public funds gives the lie to the constant bleating of
conservatives reactionaries who claim that government should keep its nose out of business matters. That argument is designed to protect the profits of established industries who have forgotten how to innovate. The world can’t afford to coddle plutocrats who are too lazy and shortsighted to address the the issues that are the biggest concerns of civilization, such as global warming and climate change. A pox on all their houses McMansions.