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Simon McWhirter, Head of Engagement

At the Active Building Centre our national mandate reads quite simply: to slash the carbon impacts of the UK’s construction sector, by establishing a market for the mass deployment of Active Buildings. These target a much-improved energy performance of the buildings themselves, and couple this with an injection of more capacity and resilience into the energy sector.

Our grand vision flows directly from one of the fundamental Construction Sector Deal’s targets: to deliver a halving of built environment emissions. To that end we’ve secured a range of Active Building demonstrator projects – from homes to schools to commercial buildings – and these will deliver bulk-loads of energy performance data from which we can in the first instance build an evidence framework of how Active Buildings can deliver the systemic change needed. And from that, we can create and foster the policy and commercial environments needed for this Active Buildings proliferation across the UK (and eventually, globally).

Research & development leads the way

To propel this forwards at pace, we’ve started the development of two R&D testing labs which will operate as a twinned International Research Centre on Active Buildings-come-Net Zero Carbon energy systems solutions. These labs will be used by – and for – the construction sector and will enable fast and efficient knowledge transfer for both technologies and skills, enabling further demonstrators to be rolled out at pace, to stimulate and satisfy the growing market demand. The two labs will have separate areas of focus (more on that later), but what will be shared is that they’ll both deliver a wide range of services around energy technology; including systems-R&D and product testing and evaluation.

Headquarters & residential focused laboratory

The first of these will be based in Swansea, South Wales – where Active Building Centre is headquartered – and will focus on smaller-scale domestic energy systems. This location lets us build on the strong and ongoing legacy work in this field, pioneered by SPECIFIC, Swansea University and their partners in a range of Active Building spheres across innovative building and energy generation materials, products and technologies.  It’ll give us and our industrial partners the opportunity to test, adapt and optimise their products and active energy solutions – effectively providing them with technology growth channels pre-deployment into the market. The key R&D areas we’ll focus on are Energy Capture, Storage, Integration & Distribution, Cyber, Data & Training – but with capture and storage remaining our key priorities through the rest of 2020 and into 2021.

Commercial & community laboratory

While this Swansea lab will focus as a test base for residential active energy solutions – for both new homes and those which require energy makeovers – the second, Gloucestershire-based lab focuses on larger, commercial or community network-scale set-ups. These will range up from the 50-150kW range, but eventually will encompass a multi-building R&D environment catering to 1MW systems, via a range of on-site testing facilities and in-use Active Buildings across the defence, justice and educational industries. Like the residential-focused lab, it’ll look at a range of issues from: ease of manufacture, through reliability, repeatability, and ultimately, commercial viability.

Agnostic approach to technology

There’s something of a dominance by solar-power in many low energy renewables systems, but the Active Building Centre – and its labs – will continue to develop and deliver system solutions which are agnostic both as to their energy source and their harvesting, capture and distribution technologies (whether wind, solar or hydrogen) – i.e. we’re not choosing winners, just identifying the core pathways to low carbon, low impact, building energy technologies. And through the associated training programmes we’ll operate, we can support the required upskilling of industry supply chain along the way.