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By Dan Cook, Chief Executive of the Active Building Centre

Active Building Centre was created in 2019 as part of UKRI’s Transforming Construction Challenge. The aim was to build on the academic work of Swansea University ,and others, and to use the active building principles and apply them to real world projects.  That is exactly what the team has done these last few years, by embedding those ideas and energy systems integration into a wide range of construction projects from new build homes to social housing,business parks and academic buildings. There is real public benefit when we can help lower emissions and lower costs for energy.

When I took on the role as interim CEO in early 2022, to help ABC complete their work, I was impressed at what had been influenced in terms of real-world projects in the face of a pandemic, disruption due to Brexit and other supply chain pressures.

There was also some strong emergent thinking across the team about how best to apply the Active Building principles in practice as well as many lessons learnt.   There were also new ideas on  what needs to be done to drive change in the buildings sector through policy, regulation and practice. It was also clear that the experiences in new build can also help change approaches to retrofit to better include active energy systems in buildings.   

In engaging with our team and key partners and then fostering knowledge exchange across our industry, I have been proud of how key research outputs  have been delivered such as the ABC Blueprint, case studies and thought leadership. It has been well received from a wide cross section of industry, providing a basis for a lasting legacy for the Transforming Construction Challenge.  


In October 2022, at UK Construction week in Birmingham  we launched our ABC Blueprint which draws on the learnings gained and the talents of the ABC team that was built, and is a collective contribution to help industry, society and government alike. It draws together theory and practical examples from ABC’s work in creating lab-based demonstrations and embedding active energy systems in a range of building types since 2019.

A key part of the blueprint is the 3C’s approach putting comfort at the forefront  whilst balancing carbon and cost.  The 3C’s, for me,  is a really important framework.

Download your copy of the blueprint here:


Since inception in 2019, ABC has partnered in delivering advice and support to over 100 real world schemes with a value of around £300m, to catalyse the uptake of active energy systems in buildings. Ranging from capital projects with Welsh Government to commercial buildings and housing developments with local authorities.

Examples include:

Cross Hands East Strategic Employment Site comprising 32,500 square feet of low-carbon offices, light industrial units and hybrid spaces for letting, across three buildings. It is an exemplar project that will help transform the way commercial buildings are powered and heated using innovative technology. The new buildings will generate electricity using on-site renewables and incorporate high levels of insulation to deliver a low-carbon development with reduced running costs.

Trent Basin is all about renewables and energy integration. There is a community-owned solar PV farm, battery storage and enabling infrastructure, which were installed at the construction stage, keeping the capital costs low. At a household level, Trent Basin residents were given the tools to help them look after their own energy usage. These range from individual circuit power and energy information to a smart heating system, which can all be interfaced via a smart speaker.

Springfield Meadows is a development of 25 homes in Oxfordshire, built by Greencore Construction in partnership with Ssassy Property. The houses are built to better than Passivhaus energy standards and are a great example of low carbon buildings. Our team’s work involved verifying whole life carbon calculations.

For more on the ABC projects and our learning, you can download our case studies here.


Let’s be clear the buildings sector has not decreased its emissions over the past decade in the UK. Furthermore our supply chains and skills are not developed with enough capacity to deal with the demand and deliver current policy goals. We also know that much more is needed around policy, regulation and industry support in regard to housing and community as energy generators and their linkage back to the grid. 

An area of focus for ABC over the past 18 months has been to engage with and encourage industry to collaborate more and to help increase knowledge exchange by bringing different stakeholders together. This has included housing associations, engineers, designers, technicians and contractors.  Our efforts through events, tours of sites and workshops, bringing experts together, has started to encourage industry players to form new collaborations and to undertake more research to demonstrate their value.

Whether it be renewable technology firms, Swansea University, Welsh Government, Construction firms, Housing Associations or industry associations like the Sustainable Energy Association – ABC has developed some strong partnerships over its short life.  We have been committed to taking an independent, evidence based approach to policy and practice and were proud to support, contribute to and attend the launch of SEA’s latest report calling for a technology agnostic approach.  So, whilst we’ve made a start on accelerating the uptake of active buildings, within our sector, there is still a lot to do. 


Buildings that can better generate and store their own energy must play a part in the country and world’s need to decarbonise as we all transition away from fossil fuels. If we are to start reducing emissions to avert the crises triggered by a 1.5 degree temperature rise we need to see systemic change in the buildings sector. No four-year programme will totally transform a sector, but what we are starting to see is:

  • greater interest from regulators, financiers, insurers and a wide range of professionals seeking to upskill in this space;  
  • industry is starting to work together to explore new innovation;
  • calls for policy & standards to be inclusive of a wider range of technologies based on actual performance; and
  • calls for new regulation have increased e.g. BPF report asking for mandating green leases

What I see as essential for the buildings and energy sectors to do more to master in this next decade is:

Integration – we need more technologies integrated based on key building typology. We need lower cost building management systems that can be deployed at scale. We need to think of energy in buildings as a system.   

Interoperability – we also need manufacturers of energy technologies to ensure that kit connects easily together with simplicity of operation for end users.   We also need regulations to better allow new innovation e.g. behind the grid energy trading for communities and deployment of community scale storage options.  

• Information – It’s vital to have independent research to back up design and supply chain claims on performance. We have a dearth of trusted independent information sources for renewable energy and low carbon buildings. Just as the UK Climate Change Committee and others have called for – it’s clear that better independent consumer advisory services are needed in this space. We also need more open information something some leading lights in industry have started to do e.g., new low carbon building Ev0 in Manchester will have open source on performance of their buildings.  


Our ABC Blueprint has been built on the three C’s Comfort, Carbon and Cost. I’d like to see the Active Building work focus more to support two additional C’s as the blueprint is developed in future years including:  

• 4th C – Circularity – It’s vital that we start to think about end of life of buildings and products in our buildings. Many jurisdictions in California in the USA are starting to require deconstruction, we need better labelling of products and designs that enable greater recycling. 

• 5th C – Collaboration – We need to get ready to scale solutions. We need to learn more from manufacturing and advanced engineering industries to apply that to buildings. We also need UK regulation, business models, funding and investor certainty that supports and makes a long-term market that drives creation of new green net zero jobs and economic growth. We also must build a stronger net zero domestic supply chain – from solar to heat pumps to infrared and new innovation that is yet to arrive!

There is a huge opportunity across new build & retrofit to change our delivery systems for the better and start to lower emissions linked to our sector.  

This will need a good mix of carrot and stick using new regulation, new policy, business models and financing to drive this market at pace. This will create prosperity, new green jobs in renewable energy through a new range of manufacturing & services jobs – creating new UK export potential.


On joining this team, I noticed that ABC had many characteristics in common with the UK’s catapult network. In addition, projects encountered by ABC often needed multi-disciplinary skills to deal with unique building typologies and location differences. With that in mind, as we looked as a board and a team around how best to continue this work,we sought to embed the centre into the catapult network. We believed this would give ABC a long-term home and I am really pleased that Energy Systems Catapult has agreed to include ABC’s mission in its work going forward.

A lasting benefit will be to help bring buildings and energy systems industries together around new innovation projects. Whether it be systems integration, new business models, process and regulation improvements or brand-new innovation in products and sharing the latest in innovation across sectors, this together will help drive the acceleration we need.


For me, I will in the next couple of months finish up my interim role as CEO at ABC. I have really enjoyed meeting some of the best and brightest in this field including many younger professionals and innovators who are at the forefront of challenging the status quo and coming up with new ways of approaching design, delivery and management of construction, buildings and renewable technologies. Such energy, passion and drive are needed right now.  More needs to be done to encourage leaders of all organisations (and their boards) to accelerate the pace of change to get us beyond net zero to climate positive outcomes. Active building approaches can be part of the solution to help get us there.