The Active Building concept was conceived by the SPECIFIC Innovation and Knowledge Centre, at the University of Swansea. Their work led to the design and build of two demonstration buildings (the Active Classroom in 2017 and the Active Office in 2018) to test and prove a range of energy and digital technologies, as well as show how these technologies can be connected in one integrated system, working together to generate heat and power for the building, and where appropriate for associate vehicles and the local grid.
The success of the early Active Building demonstrators gave rise to the Active Building Centre, through funding by the UK government as part of the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund and UKRI. That support, including £36m of funding, was provided to develop a national centre of excellence working with supply chains in the energy and construction sectors and in turn supported a parallel Active Building Research Programme involving ten universities: Swansea, Bath, Newcastle, Birmingham, Loughborough, UCL, Sheffield, Cardiff, Imperial College London and Nottingham. Objectives for the Active Building Centre include assisting the Welsh Government in delivering a fairer, more equal and sustainable future; enabling prosperity for all to deliver a low carbon Wales, through transformed energy and construction sectors in Wales, and across the UK.
The Active Building Centre works with national and local government, developers, energy distributors and homeowners, advising on how to most effectively deploy new technologies and innovative energy system solutions into new buildings or retrofit them into existing stock to optimise energy efficiency.
We have established wide-ranging connections with industry and academia. In supporting and facilitating new active demonstrators we are also collecting proprietary data from a wide range of homes and commercial buildings that will inform future industry standards on how to best configure smart in-building energy systems.
ABC Research Centre
Each of the three demonstrator Active Buildings at our Berkeley research centre have been built to a different specification, showcasing how renewable generation and storage technologies can be either retrofitted into past generations of housing stock or incorporated into modern-day new builds.
These demonstrator buildings are continuously capturing data on their energy performance, establishing best practice on how different renewable technologies should be used together.
Our demonstrators comprise of:
A single-storey house built to 2005 Building Regulations standards of power and fuel consumption with reversible heat pump, solar panels, wind turbines and PCM battery.
A modular terrace-style house built to 2012 Building Regulations standards, which also features a biomass boiler and EV charge points
A second modular house built to the specification of the incoming Future Homes Standard, it has a three-phase electrical system and vehicle-to-building charging capabilities.
ABC Funded Demonstrators
The Trent Basin housing development in Nottingham is pioneering community ‘energy bubbles’. It is only a tiny portion of an estimated 6.6 million homes which are being built in the UK before 2050 – 2050 being the year the UK is aiming to be a net-zero economy – but through Project SCENe it has become an exemplar in its approach to integrated renewables.
Community owned solar PV, battery storage and enabling infrastructure were installed at the construction stage, keeping the capital costs low. On a household level, Trent Basin residents were given 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.
With the help of an Ofgem derogation – an experimental relaxation of the rules – and ABC RTO funding, the University of Nottingham are taking this concept one step further. Their innovative ‘Behind-the-Meter’ project is investigating a revolutionary business model, which allows a community-based Energy Service Company (ESCO) to supply the residents directly with the renewable energy generated from the community owned sources, in parallel to conventional grid supplies. If proven successful, this Community ESCO model could enable all new housing developments to be net-zero from the ground up and could extend into existing neighbourhoods.
ABC is supporting Carmarthenshire County Council and the Welsh Government in the delivery of a new low-carbon office and industrial development at Cross Hands, Carmarthenshire.
The project is seeking to deliver highly energy-efficient, potentially net-zero-carbon buildings that are innovative in their use of renewable energy sources, adhere to ‘Fabric First’ principles to maximise material performance and qualify for a BREEAM ‘Excellent’ rating, signifying best practice in sustainability standards.
The Welsh Government has outlined an ambitious package of policies and objectives to cut emissions, support the growth of the low-carbon economy and kickstart Wales’s transition to a low-carbon nation, as per its 2019 paper Prosperity for All: A Low Carbon Wales.
The Cross Hands commercial and industrial development will serve as an exemplar for a low-carbon mixed-use scheme corresponding to these goals, with ABC’s technical team working with the client, design team and contractor to provide the unique technical energy solutions required. Onsite construction is due to start in April 2022.
ABC is funding and partnering with Swansea University and the SPECIFIC Innovation and Knowledge Centre on the retrofit of Y Twyni, the two-storey modular lecture theatre facility on Swansea University’s Bay Campus. The active upgrade involves the installation of rooftop photovoltaic solar panels, battery storage and rapid EV chargers.
The project will demonstrate how a large site can control its impact on the grid by storing energy generated from renewable sources, drawing down from the grid only when power is cheapest or least carbon-intensive and releasing energy to power the buildings and the university’s EV fleet during peak grid times.