By Prof. Dave Worsley, Vice President (Innovation), Swansea University
At UK Construction Week, which took place earlier this month, offsite and modular dominated the proceeding. Everywhere one looked there were myriad different structural solutions from lightweight steel frames to the latest in precast panelling.
There is no doubt the construction industry is on the brink of significant change.
Another topic which dominated the seminar programme was ‘sustainability’. It was clear from the proceedings that policy makers, contractors and developers are acutely aware of the need to introduce more eco-friendly systems and processes; essential to meet 2050 targets and drive towards a net-zero carbon built environment.
Much focus was placed on the materials we use and the benefits of automation in the face of the looming skills shortage in the industry, however less was paid to the energy consumption of buildings and resulting carbon emissions. To put this into perspective, recent research by Policy Connect found that 14% of UK’s greenhouse gases come from our homes (not to mention the rest) roughly the same level as emissions from cars.
It’s something which needs to be addressed, and fast. I think that the modular and offsite has the opportunity and the vision to help deliver these low emission buildings, as market innovators, there is surely more appetite to explore more energy efficient and eco-friendly options?
The benefits of ‘active buildings’
The answer, in my opinion, lies in ‘Active Buildings’. In essence, ‘Active Buildings’ effectively create a structure which is energy self-sufficient, allowing for intuitive collection, storage and use. It’s a low carbon option which has the potential to significantly ease pressure on the national grid, essential as our energy consumption rapidly increases and we move to non-fossil fuel generated electricity.
Furthermore, these ‘Active Buildings’ would offer further benefits on society, improving air quality through reduced emissions and encouraging the adoption of EVs (powered independently by the buildings themselves!). Importantly for offsite developers, this approach encourage them to consider options and components which might seem either too risky or not cost effective to implement in the current housebuilding landscape.
At the Active Building Centre, we are constantly working on new and innovative solutions which will define the energy efficient and self-sufficient homes of the future. Our approach is empirical and data driven so we have been directly able to observe the capabilities and possibilities for ‘Active Buildings’.
The UK offsite and modular sector has the capability and the capacity to be early adopters of this construction model, becoming trailblazers in the collective mission to achieve our zero-carbon targets and deliver a more sustainable society.