The Air In Here Matters
Last year, the University of East Anglia (UEA) was rated one of the best universities for student experience in the Times Higher Education Student Experience Survey. Among other measures, the survey assessed the campus environment as well as the quality of school facilities.
While many things determine the quality of a campus environment and its facilities, it’s probably no coincidence that a number of UEA’s buildings were constructed using innovative technologies, providing superior air quality and maximizing occupant comfort. Students on the campus are spared the musty stenches and poorly heated and cooled halls and auditoriums characteristic of other higher education institutions.
Countless studies have linked improvements in air quality to improved academic performance (and to worker productivity and happiness more generally). So, while universities and the experiences they provide may be ranked according to any number of different markers, measuring air quality and occupant satisfaction factors sensibly into any scale. Occupant comfort in schools allows for better learning, and produces smarter, better workers that can help us build a smarter and healthier world.
The Air Out There Matters, Too
Perhaps in recognition of this, UEA has taken seriously its mandate to build a sustainable campus environment, investing in its infrastructure and personnel to reduce negative environmental impacts and improving the quality of air in classrooms and campus buildings. Despite experiencing growth in the size of the estate over the years, UEA has managed to lower its carbon intensity and to maximize the comfort of its building occupants. Looking closely at UEA as a case study, there are lessons to be derived from beyond the institution’s curriculum.
UEA’s Evolution to a Low Carbon Campus
With pressing climate considerations changing the face of industry, energy efficient and sustainable solutions are constantly being explored.
UEA started ahead of the pack, granted, after the first scientists’ warning to humanity over 25 years ago, but before the second, and in the mid-1990s, when it pledged to construct all new buildings with a focus on saving energy and carbon.
Indeed UEA’s low carbon campus has achieved certification according to the international standard for environmental management systems (EMS) and has been awarded the level of EcoCampus Platinum.
Let’s take a look at how this great success was achieved:
1. Thermal Energy Storage and Photovoltaic Systems
Beginning with their quest to construct the most efficient building possible, the Elizabeth Fry building was constructed in 1995 using a thermal energy storage system, known by its trade name: TermoDeck.
For its low energy consumption, enviable air quality and outstanding occupant satisfaction, Elizabeth Fry was awarded the “Best Building Ever” Award from the Building Services Journal (1998) and, today, after more than twenty years in operation, the building continues to exceed current regulations for thermal performance. In fact, the Elizabeth Fry Building achieved the highest occupant comfort and satisfaction of any building tested by CIBSE.
After the success behind Elizabeth Fry, another building – the ZICER (The Zuckerman Institute for Connective Environmental Research) Building (photograph below)– was constructed, again using TermoDeck.
This time a building-integrated photovoltaic (PV) system was also placed on the roof, resulting in UEA’s ZICER being awarded the ‘Low Energy Building of the Year' award in the Building Magazine's sustainability competition in 2005.
2. District Cooling
Seeking to further enhance energy efficiency, a district cooling system was set up on campus using low carbon waste sources of energy, which in turn lowered levels of energy consumption.
With a district cooling system in place, construction began on yet another building – the Thomas Pain Study Centre (photograph below), completed in 2009 – again using thermal mass (TermoDeck), innovative ventilation, and increased zoning which maximized occupant comfort on campus.
Four years later, this sustainable campus reached yet another milestone with the building of the Julian Study Centre (photograph below). Keeping abreast of the fast pace growth on the campus, designers balanced the need to construct a building quickly with the aim of achieving an even lower carbon footprint than its predecessors.
This intention resulted in the application of cross-laminated timber (CLT) with 22kW of roof mounted PV, again in conjunction with TermoDeck’s hollowcore concrete floors, giving it the highest-rated Energy Performance Certificate (A, out of G).
Today TermoDeck is being applied in hotels, hospitals, educational institutions, and commercial and residential building projects in other parts of the world, including the Middle East, Canada, Australia and Africa.
Over 400 buildings worldwide, and more than 20 projects in the GCC, have been successfully constructed using this thermal energy storage solution, earning numerous awards for sustainable design and comfort.
UAE Takeaways from UEA
With Dubai’s urban development reaching unprecedented rates of growth in the region, UEA serves as a useful example of innovative, evidence-based technologies that can maintain a low carbon environment.
Following the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, the government through Empower and other district cooling firms has turned its focus to district cooling to meet the growing demand on energy supply.
The Dubai Electricity and Water Authority has also launched the Shams Dubai initiative to encourage the use of photovoltaic installations to generate solar power (and has already connected 453 photovoltaic installations on the roofs of residential, commercial and industrial buildings with a combined capacity of 18.7 MW).
Adding thermal energy storage to these initiatives can only bring us closer to reaching our goal of building a sustainable future for the UAE – not unlike that of UEA.