Norvento looks at energy solutions to create self-sufficient buildings

As the fight against climate change gains momentum, new technologies are challenging the status quo in construction. However, the regular emergence of new disruptors such as energy storage means it can be difficult to keep a good overview of the solutions available. Here Ivo Arnús, Business Development Director at Norvento UK, looks at how specifiers can use this leap forward in the energy sector to their advantage – and design truly future-proof, self-sufficient, intelligent buildings in the process.

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ccording to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) 2016 Energy & Emissions Projections, residential and public sector buildings alone account for 17% of the UK’s carbon emissions, and counting. As our industry well knows, this climb in emissions is only being exacerbated by the nation’s ever-rising energy demand – putting pressure on the UK’s ageing gas and electrical grid infrastructure, as well as creating uncertainty around long-term energy security.

New age, new energy mix

The architectural sector has duly responded to the various short-, medium- and long-term carbon reduction targets introduced in recent years, both in the UK and further afield. This is illustrated by the growing trend for innovative, low-carbon (or even zero-carbon) architecture – driven by end-users on the one hand, and developers on the other. Low-energy solutions are not only addressing environmental concerns, but have also become especially popular with businesses looking to reduce overheads, avoid carbon emissions penalties from the Carbon Reduction Commitment (CRC) Energy Efficiency Scheme, and future-proof their energy supply without relying on the grid.

From integrating one renewable energy source into an existing set-up to designing a completely off-grid building, taking steps to tackle the energy security challenge can add real value to premises and to businesses. The key is finding the right mix to address the particular needs of individual projects.

Putting theory into practice

Put simply, energy-efficient buildings start with clever architecture – from strategic building orientation, right through to active roofs that can maximise rainwater harvesting capabilities and smart materials (e.g. building-integrated photovoltaics). By taking this ethos one step further to include enhanced energy generation and storage, industry professionals can not only help clients ensure continuity of power supply, but also provide long-term protection against volatile fossil fuel prices.

Choosing the right combination from such a wide spectrum of options to meet a project’s specific energy requirements is, without doubt, a daunting task for most. What’s more, cherry-picking one or two renewable technologies as a box-ticking exercise is no longer sufficient. Instead, the emphasis is on assessing a building’s need to find a tailored combination of energy-saving, energy-generating and energy storage solutions that will truly deliver sustainability and commercial objectives – long term.

Luckily, there are advanced energy engineering service providers on hand to guide architects, contractors and consultants through every stage of the development process – whether that’s at the initial design phase, post planning or even after the building is completed (in the case of retrofit projects). At Norvento, we’ve seen a rise in demand for specialist energy consultancies which can advise on a holistic approach to energy services – one that includes the initial analysis of a site’s natural resources, micro-grid design, integration of energy management systems and sourcing of all other technologies needed.

With this approach, it’s even possible for buildings to not only break their dependence on the grid completely, but to become totally zero-energy.

The ultimate goal: zero-energy

Our Norvento headquarters in Lugo, Spain, is a case in point: designed to be completely self-sufficient. The 4000m2 building, which has been awarded the BREEAM ‘Outstanding’ design certificate, boasts a number of architectural features aimed at boosting efficiency. From an envelope point of view, it was built using natural, sustainable materials – sourced locally wherever possible – and its windows and skylights are positioned to maximise natural lighting.

Because the building is entirely disconnected from both the gas and electrical grids, it relies on a bespoke combination of renewable electricity, heating and cooling, as well as high-tech energy storage methods, to meet its entire peak energy demand of 90 kWe and 150 kWth. This holistic solution includes wind turbines, solar PV panels, storage and combined heat and power (CHP) to meet the electrical needs of the building. Heat pumps, heat recovery systems and thermal storage cover its heating and cooling requirements. Moreover, the entire sanitary water demand is met by rainwater harvesting and greywater recycling systems. All these generation and storage technologies feed into a purpose-built, bi-directional ‘micro-grid’, which works in tandem with our advanced OG+ control system – balancing on site energy generation and storage with real-time consumption and future forecasts. The result is a true zero-energy building, which costs nothing to run and emits no carbon at all. In other words, Norvento’s HQ is a working example of the fact that, however complex a building’s consumption profile, it is possible to meet 100% of its energy demand with the correct balance of technologies. Better still, the average return on investment period for a project of this scale is usually between five and 10 years.

Out with the old

The buildings of the future are here, today. It’s becoming very clear that the construction industry is quickly shifting away from traditional forms of energy distribution (through the national grid system), and towards a new age of on site energy generation which seeks to harness the power of renewable resources. This rapid transition is backed by international regulations, such as the Zero Carbon Buildings EU Directive 2010/31/UE, which stipulates that all new-builds must be nearly zero-energy by 2020.

With this deadline in mind, architects and contractors will also need to adopt this approach to modern building to reap the environmental and financial benefits of a truly durable, resilient and efficient energy mix – for both themselves and their clients. Ultimately, a fully integrated energy engineering solution is key to long-term energy security and meeting corporate, national and global carbon emissions reduction goals.

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