The Impact of Construction on the Environment
There is simply no way to overstate the environmental impact of construction activity.
A solid one-half of total atmospheric emissions come from construction, building maintenance, and building demolition. Globally, buildings are responsible for approximately 40% of the total world annual energy consumption, owing mainly to lighting, heating, cooling, and air conditioning.
The UAE is among the highest electricity consumers per capita in the world with up to 80% consumed by buildings and essential services. With the stated aim of reducing energy and water consumption by 30%, and boosting the use of clean energy by 75%, the Emirates Green Building Council is advocating for “Nearly Zero Energy Buildings” (nZEB) as a national goal. Given the heavy reliance on active cooling systems for buildings to cope with the extreme heat and local climate, this call for nZEB requires conceptual shifts in conventional building design.
A Call for Nearly Zero Energy Buildings
According to the 2017 report from the Emirates Green Building Council, nZEB: Defining Nearly Zero Energy Buildings in the UAE:
“A common feature of nZEBs globally is an aggressive passive design regime. The Passive House Standard, established by the Passive House Institute, emphasizes on energy reduction and efficiency... Furthermore, it entails that optimal thermal comfort levels are maintained … through the use of insulation, improvement of airtightness and indoor air quality.”
“The passive house concept can be applied to all building types, budgets and climates; with a report by the Passive House Institute concluding that all renewable energy sources can be successfully integrated into a passive house, therefore providing an optimal model for Nearly Zero Energy Buildings (nZEBs). The concepts within the Passive House Standards, due to their strict thermal specifications, are very relevant to the UAE as cooling of buildings represents about 70% of the peak electricity loads in the GCC region.”
To meet Passive House Standards, innovative and accessible renewable energies integrated with technological improvements should be rigidly applied to all new build, and retrofitted where possible into existing construction and air-conditioning systems.
The Need for Innovation in Industry
According to Cast Chief Executive and Founder, Mark Farmer, the lack of innovation, collaboration, and non-existent research and development culture is sending the construction industry itself into inexorable decline. His report, commissioned by the UK government on the construction industry, bears the harrowing sub-title: “modernise or die.”
Innovation is also needed in applied energy and air-conditioning solutions. Relentless adherence to conventional approaches bears high corresponding economic and environmental costs. For energy and HVAC, its not the research and development that is lacking, but perhaps more so the pioneering spirit of designers, architects, engineers and developers that mitigates sustainability. Unique architectural marvels abound in Dubai, but they bleed monochrome when sliced open; all their chillers, ducts, false ceilings, AHU’s etc. are the same.
The highest-rated buildings under sustainability assessment methods are those that obstinately emphasize integrated approaches and innovation.
Bloomberg’s new headquarters in London, a near perfect melding of innovation in lighting, water and air-conditioning systems, received a 98.5 per cent score on the BREEAM environmental rating scheme – the highest score ever achieved by any commercial building in the world.
As summarized by Alan Yates, Technical Director of BRE Global’s Sustainability Group said: “Projects like these are really important in giving confidence to the industry to experiment.”
With respect to air-conditioning, much of the HVAC equipment market today consists of low or minimum efficiency equipment.
According to The Research and Development Roadmap for Emerging Heating, Ventilation, and Air-Conditioning Technologies commissioned by the US Department of Energy, government “should support research into developing [passive cooling] lower cost thermal energy storage systems, which easily integrate with common HVAC equipment types in the residential and light commercial market, especially for existing buildings and systems.”
Thermal Energy Storage (TES) as an Innovative Solution
TermoDeck is a transformational thermal energy storage technology applied in buildings that have achieved the coveted Passive House Requirements, and received high ratings across LEED, BREEAM and other sustainability assessment methods worldwide.
TermoDeck is a simple and proven TES airborne solution that captures, stores and circulates air in the structure of the building itself and does so during off-peak times, when commercial and industrial buildings are not typically occupied, and always when air is at its lowest temperature (or at its warmest, collecting during the daytime for optimal heat storage in cooler climates). It works with existing technologies and easily integrates with common HVAC equipment types. Coupled with renewable technology, such as photovoltaic systems, TermoDeck can achieve the highest standards on any building sustainability index.
Unlike other TES systems, TermoDeck is airborne so the added complexities that result from using water as the cool or heat transfer and storage fluid is eliminated altogether.
Benefits of TermoDeck’s TES system include:
lower total lifecycle costs as a result of lower investment costs (reduced chiller size, reduce/eliminate chilled water network and FCUs, reduced material use, integrated supply air ducts, no need of suspended ceiling and chilled beams for cooling, reduced connected electrical load), lower operational costs (reduced heating and cooling energy use because of utilized night time cooling and excess heat gains, increased performance of renewable energy technologies) and reduced maintenance over building lifetime;
higher thermal and acoustic comfort leading to better working climate, improved indoor air quality, increased occupant productivity and reduced absenteeism due to better operative temperature from the radiant cooling of exposed concrete surfaces, stable year-round indoor climate, reduced overheating risk in summer, no draught, no noise from the installations because slabs perform very efficient silencers, etc;
lower environmental impact reduced material and operational energy use, reduced peak load usage, reduced maintenance (lower embodied and operational CO2 emissions), lower carbon footprint.
Used in conjunction with renewables and other innovative energy-saving technologies, TermoDeck’s simple modifications to existing hollow core slabs (or in-situ slabs) can easily turn every new build into a nZEB and put the UAE on the map for pioneers in sustainable design.
A decade before the sustainability record-breaking Bloomberg building was constructed, TermoDeck was part of a melding of technologies that set the benchmark for “Outstanding” – achieving in 2007 the then highest ever BREEAM rating award of 87.55%.
The 'Innovate Office' building (image above) in Leeds designed by Rio Architects, applied a range of innovative technologies for energy conservation including passive solar heating, active floor slab cooling, mixed mode ventilation and CHP.
Innovative Thinking: The Time is Now
This perfect melding of new technologies with old approaches allows transformational improvements in air-conditioning and energy use. Conceptually disruptive, modern approaches to conventional methods and practices can help the industry stay afloat and achieve sustainability targets.
“To do all this requires a paradigm shift in thinking not only from engineers and designers, but also from building owners and their representatives, who must demand superior performance and drive the changes needed.” – Grahame E. Maisey
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Prof. Andy Ford And Aaron Gillich. “A Review of Experiences of Low Energy Buildings: Exploring the Opportunities and Limitations of Low Energy Building Design.” The Institute of Refrigeration. March 2015. Online: http://www.cibseashrae.org/presentations/CowanFord5thMarch2015LSBU_V114.pdf
Mark Farmer, “The Farmer Review of the UK Construction Labour Model : ‘Modernise or Die’.” Construction Leadership Council (CLC). October 2016. Online: http://www.cast-consultancy.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/Farmer-Review-1.pdf
GRC Staff. “British construction must “modernise or die”, says damning government report.” Global Construction Review. Website of the Chartered Institute of Building. October 2016. Online: http://www.globalconstructionreview.com/news/british-construction-must-modernise-o7r-d7ie-say7s/
Majd Fayyad and Jason John. “nZEB: Defining Nearly Zero Energy Buildings in the UAE – 2017,” Emirates Green Building Council. 2017. Online: http://emiratesgbc.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/Defining-nZEBs-in-the-UAE-2017.pdf
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Goetzler et al. "Research & Development Roadmap for Emerging HVAC Technologies." Navigant. U.S. DOE. October 2014. Online: https://www.energy.gov/sites/prod/files/2014/12/f19/Research%20and%20Development%20Roadmap%20for%20Emerging%20HVAC%20Technologies.pdf
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