Solar window cells and 100-year heat pumps: the best innovations for World Green Building Week

To mark World Green Building Week, edie has re-focused its usual green innovations of the week series to deliver six of the best solutions to help decarbonise the built environment.

Innovations in the built environment are key to making net zero the new normal

Innovations in the built environment are key to making net zero the new normal

The built environment is in a precarious position. The global building stock is projected to double by 2050, adding extra pressure to national, city-level and even business decarbonisation goals.

Currently, less than 1% of the global building stock is considered net-zero. In contrast, The World Green Building Council (WorldGBC) has called on the built environment sector to set ambitious targets that eliminate carbon emissions for building portfolios by 2030, in order to meet the targets of the Paris Agreement.

Amidst a favourable policy background, the rise of innovation and cost-saving potential of energy-efficient operations, companies are scanning the horizon for technological solutions that could help save energy, reduce emissions and generate long-term costs savings for their building stock. Here, edie covers some of the most promising.

Housing heat pumps

The UK’s climate progress to date has been strong, but there are notable areas of concern as to the speed of decarbonisation in the built environment, heat and transport. This week, housing association Flagship Group and Kensa Contracting introduced a solution across two of these areas.

A cul-de-sac in Suffolk will house a host of renewable energy innovations, as insisted by the Department of International Trade (DIT). In total, 12 properties have had old night storage heaters replaced with ground source heat pumps wired to a private electrical supply.

The heat pumps upgrade low-temperature heat from the ground via boreholes so that no heat is lost through a pipe network. Benefits of the system include renewable heat, improved efficiency and no harmful particulate emissions. The companies claim the system will provide low-cost, low-carbon heat for the next 100 years and will come online at the end of October.

Satellite data planning

Energy efficiency projects for buildings are like snowflakes, no two are alike. For optimal performance from a solar array, for example, south-facing roofs are optimal. Other technologies also require specialist observations to guarantee energy efficiency and economic savings. It can be a time-consuming process, but a new satellite technology could drastically speed up the process.

E.ON is working with the European Space Agency (ESA) and Earth observation specialist Astrosat to capture satellite imaging data that will accurately identify areas and buildings across the UK where energy efficiency measures will have the biggest impact. It will use near-real-time and archived data from a range of optical and thermal-infrared satellites to map heat and air quality.

Software will then be used to assess housing conditions, insulation and traffic management. It is envisioned that the platform will provide local authorities of a street-level view of where improvements can be made. A UK pilot will be ready towards the end of 2019.

Starbuck’s green roof

Earlier this month, Starbucks committed to designing, building and operating 10,000 “Greener Stores” globally by 2025. Strides are already being taken in the UK, after the coffee retailer recently announced that a new drive-through store at Willow Tree Lane Retail Park in Yeading, West London, had achieved LEED certification.

The coffee shop is fitted with a plethora of built-in sustainability features, including a “living” green roof packed with plants, a zone-controlled heat pump and energy-efficient LED lighting. As well as conserving energy through insulation, the green roof helps increase biodiversity around the store, reduces noise pollution inside the building, and captures carbon.

There are also several electric vehicle (EV) chargepoints in the car park of the store, which is built entirely from locally sourced materials. Starbucks also insists that all waste material generated through the construction of the store was diverted from landfill and sent for recycling.

The house that waste built

The plastics problem has created a new-found focus on resource efficiency and led to a boon in demand for second-life goods. Once such example is on show in Brighton, where a “waste” house made with end-of-life toothbrushes, floppy discs and DVD cases has been ranked among the most innovative sustainable buildings in the world by design consultancy Mind’s Eye Design.

The house, constructed four years ago, is located on the University of Brighton campus in Sussex and was the first in the UK to be made entirely out of material destined for landfill. Designed by architect Duncan Baker-Brown, materials used in the construction process include two tonnes of denim jeans, 2,000 floppy discs and 2,000 used carpet tiles.

The structure, which is used by the University’s students as a study hub, has a frame made from waste timber collected from local building sites, recycling centres and outlets like Freegle. Plywood ‘cassettes’ containing waste materials have been slotted into the walls of the wooden structure for insulation, and the building also benefits from a rooftop solar array and heat recovery system.

Solar window cells

Last week, the UK Government committed more than £36m on new technology that will enable building materials to generate, store and release clean energy, with a focus on materials that can replace a building’s conventional structure. It’s a fledgling market, but Swedish construction firm Skanska has moved to champion a new approach to building foundations that can source solar.

The company has teamed with Polish tech firm Saule Technologies to trial semi-transparent perovskite solar cells that can be used in commercial construction and placed directly into a building’s façade. Skanska will trial the cells at its office buildings in Poland.

Saule Technologies has been developing the cells, which can be placed on windows, since 2014 and uses inkjet technology to create and place the cells over the external cladding of a building. Skanska hopes the trials will create a step change in creating low-carbon office environments, although details on energy costs and carbon savings are yet to be detailed.

Air-filtering fashion stores

Oxford Street is one of the most polluted roads in London, largely due to nitrogen dioxide from diesel fumes. Luxury fashion brand Stella McCartney’s new London store is located in the area, and has utilised new technology to improve the local air quality.

The new store, which opened this summer on Bond Street, boasts air-filtration technology which claims to remove 95% of traffic fumes and residual airborne pollutants. It is the first time that the filter system, designed by Danish firm Airlabs, has been installed in any building.

Stella McCartney joins The Body Shop in trialling Airlabs technology in London. The Body Shop fitted technology at three bus stop sites in order to improve the air quality. It’s a timely reminder that green technologies should target other emissions reductions as well as carbon.

Matt Mace



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