The researchers have already planned the next phase of their study, which involves collecting proof and data on an office building that was built using similar techniques. Nowadays, buildings are responsible for about 40% of UK energy consumption. The concept behind this innovative building, called the Active Office, shows how a new generation of low-carbon offices which produce their own supply of energy can be designed.
The conception of this innovation was made by SPECIFIC, a UK Innovation and Knowledge Center headed by Swansea University. Professor Dave Worsley, Research Director for SPECIFIC as well as Swansea University College of Engineering, clarified how SPECIFIC’s work involves a two-way connection between research and real-world application: "SPECIFIC's research focuses on developing solar technologies and the processing techniques that take them from the lab to full-scale buildings. With our building demonstration program we are testing and proving the 'buildings as power stations' concept in real buildings, which are used every day. The data obtained from these buildings is then fed back into our fundamental research into solar energy technologies and used to accelerate and steer their development." Some innovative technologies are used by the Active Office that will allow it to produce, store, and discharge solar energy in a single integrated system, including:
- A Photovoltaic Thermal system located on the south facing wall can generate heat as well as electricity from the sun in a single system
- A curved roof with built-in solar cells shows the versatile nature of the laminated photovoltaic panel
- Lithium-ion batteries for storing the generated electricity, and a 2,000-liter water tank for storing solar heat
The Active Office is constructed in a way that can be easily reproduced. Its assembly requires about one week, with most of the construction occurring off site. Furthermore, it uses only commercially available technologies, which means they can be easily used on any new building.
The Active Office and Classroom will be linked together with the ability to share energy and electric vehicles, demonstrating how the concept could be applied in an energy-resilient solar-powered community.
Energy positive buildings could benefit the UK significantly. A 2017 analysis showed that it would mean:
- Lower energy costs for the consumer
- Less need for peak central power generating capacity and associated reduction in stress on the National Grid, leading to improved energy security
- Reduced carbon emissions
"Offices are enormous consumers of energy, so turning them energy-positive has the potential to slash fuel bills and dramatically reduce their carbon emissions. Turning our buildings into power stations is a concept that works, as the Active Classroom shows. This new building will enable us to get data and evidence on how it can be applied to an office, helping us refine the design further. The Active Office is a first, but it isn't a one-off. It is quick to build using existing supply chains, and uses only materials that are already available. This is tomorrow's office, but it can be built today", said Kevin Bygate, chief operating officer of SPECIFIC. Alun Cairns, Secretary of State for Wales, adds: "The Active Office is a living example of how a building can make a difference to us and our environment using innovative technologies -and equally importantly creating jobs in Wales.''