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Active Building Centre awarded £36 million to change the way buildings use energy

Active Building Centre awarded £36 million to change the way buildings use energy

The Active Building Centre in Swansea has been awarded £36 million to research and apply new ways of thinking about construction and energy in the UK. 

Now, with £36 million from the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, the Active Building Centre, a consortium of academic partners, plans to create a national centre of excellence to transform the UK construction and energy sectors.

The centre will direct active building developments across the country, forming energy positive communities and contributing to the government’s decarbonisation targets.

The programme will include a flagship ‘living lab’ at Swansea University but will ultimately run a portfolio of 300 buildings across the UK to showcase technologies and demonstrate scalability.

Active buildings

In 2016, SPECIFIC based at the university demonstrated the feasibility of its Active Building concept, in which buildings are able to generate, store and use their own energy, rather than just consuming it. 

In its first year of operation the Active Classroom at Swansea University’s Bay campus generated one and a half times more power than it consumed. Two years later, the classroom was joined by the larger, neighbouring Active Office, scaling up the same vision and technology and allowing for the 2 buildings to share power between them.

A blueprint for future construction 

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The Active Building demonstrators use a mix of technologies including integrated photovoltaic (solar) cells, solar thermal and an electrically heated floor coating. As construction gets underway, the Active Building Centre will create and manage an evidence base, researching and recording the technological and performance data from the buildings themselves as well as how residents and tenants interact with them.

The centre plans to use this data to unlock barriers to commercialisation of the Active Buildings concept, refine business models and accelerate adoption by supplying toolkits to help inform and guide designers and engineers on future developments. 

Government funding

The funding, announced in January, is provided through the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund.

The funding is part of the Transforming Construction challenge, which aims to provide safer, healthier and more affordable buildings that use far less energy to construct and operate.

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Scalability of technology

Models indicate that construction of 1 million Active Homes would remove the need for 3 gigawatts of peak generating capacity, the equivalent to a large central power station. The vision for the new Active Building Centre is the widespread deployment of Active Buildings across the UK that provide their own energy, save money on energy bills and contribute to a more sustainable industry.

Partnership of success

Professor Dave Worsley, Vice President for Innovation and principal investigator for the centre, explained how the partnership approach is key to success:

“The Active Building Centre aims to break down the barriers that prevent mass uptake of solar-powered buildings. I passionately believe that our partnership and collaborative approach is the best way to transform construction and energy. The new centre will bring together our experience with the Active Classroom and Active Office with social, business, policy and energy expertise from universities and companies across the UK. Together we can really make a difference.”

Beyond buildings

ABC's plan for the future goes beyond the construction side of the built environment. If buildings can be made to provide not only enough energy for their needs but a surplus, that surplus can be used to power electric vehicles, leading to further decarbonisation. 

With that in mind, electric cars will be a major use for excess power, given that cars are stationary and parked next to a building for nearly 95% of the time.