The building industry is rapidly expanding, with between 30 and 40% of total global basic resources currently being invested in creating developments suitable for modern life.
However, while this may be great news for the economy, it’s having extremely detrimental effects on the environment; after heavy industry and agriculture, modern-day buildings are now the third-largest consumer of fossil fuel-derived energy.
As a result of this, sustainability is now becoming a major influencing factor in design decisions. From small things like the types of light bulbs to use to huge considerations like which materials to construct the building with, it’s safe to say that greener is better.
One of the biggest considerations to make when designing a building is how to power it effectively. This will, after all, be the major contributing factor to the building’s overall energy output.
So, rather than using traditional fossil-fuel derived energy, we thought we’d highlight a few alternative options. Join us as we run through five of the more unique sources of energy currently available to power your building.
We start with an oldie, but a goodie. Solar panels have been around for a while now and are seen as the tried and tested method for accessible renewable energy.
From a few panels on residential homes to solar farms, solar panels are now more popular than ever. In fact, the International Energy Agency predicts that, by 2050, around a quarter of the world’s energy will come from solar power.
This is likely to be somewhat due to the progressive phasing out of fossil fuel heating over the next six years, with gas heating set to be banned by 2025. As such, utilising solar panel energy now could be a great investment, not only saving you money now but in the future as well.
What’s more, with a little creative thinking, solar panels can also be used as an effective design platform. The Endesa Pavilion project in Barcelona, for instance, follows the principle that “form follows energy” and is a great example of how traditionally ‘ugly’ solar panels can be used to create an eye-catching architectural feature.
We’ve all seen the large offshore and onshore wind farms, often visible for miles around. It will, therefore, be hardly surprising to hear that wind energy is one of the fastest-growing renewable energy sources in the UK.
Becoming the UK’s second-biggest source of electricity in 2019, wind power now provides nearly one-fifth of our total electricity generation, approximately 64 TWh.
While we have yet to see wind energy being implemented in urban areas, there is hope for those living and developing in rural areas; over 10% of UK farmers now have a small-scale wind turbine on their land, with many earning up to £50,000 per year from generating their own wind energy, thanks to government incentives.
As such, depending on the size of the building you’re designing, you could not only create enough energy to power it but actually turn a profit from it as well.
If you’ve ever seen a ‘Smoothiebike’ or an exercise bike that tells you the number of Watts you’ve produced, you will have seen kinetic energy at work. Essentially, these systems use movement or pressure to power a dynamo, which in turn produces electricity.
At first glance, it’s hard to see how this could power your building or development, but a collaborative project in Israel has done exactly that.
Research conducted by Technion University, Inowatech and Israel Railways investigated the use of piezoelectric energy capture devices – or pressure pads – for power generation. After installing the pads along a reasonably busy section of the railway, they were able to harvest enough energy to power track mechanisms and signal lights – around 120 kWh.
To put this in perspective, 120KWh is enough energy to power around 40 homes so the application of this technology could be potentially game-changing. It’s certainly one to keep an eye on.
When you read geothermal energy, it’s easy to think about volcanoes and thermal springs. But how can that be used in the UK, where there are no volcanoes and thermal springs are few and far between?
Well, ground source heat pumps are one of the things you can use to harness the thermal energy stored within the earth. These systems work by burying a loop of fluid-filled pipe, which absorbs the heat from the ground and feeds it to a system that provides heating and hot water to the building.
They are also typically situated outside, freeing up flexibility for you to design your building without needing to account for a large or cumbersome heating system.
Creating power by burning biomass, bioenergy systems are one of the simpler and more affordable routes to power your building.
Currently being explored as an accessible means of sustainable living by those wanting to live ‘off-grid, the widespread application of bioenergy could be possible over time and is a real cause of excitement within the world of energy.
After all, waste is a huge contributing factor towards climate change, accounting for a huge amount of space in our landfills. So, if we could find a way to convert that waste into a viable source of energy, this could significantly support the world’s efforts in protecting the planet.
If you’re currently designing a building, being as green as possible is now more important than ever.
Whichever way you decide to power your building, as the options listed above should now prove, renewable energy sources are the way forward for power generation in the UK.
By implementing some of these environmentally-friendly alternatives in your design you will significantly help towards changing the social conscience, shaping a much more sustainable future for our planet.