What Are Active Buildings?

An Active Building is described as “a building that supports the wider grid network by intelligently integrating renewable energy technologies for heat, power and transport.” It also has six core principles:

  1. Building fabric and passive design – integrated engineering and architecture design approach including consideration of orientation and massing, fabric efficiency, natural daylight and natural ventilation.  Designed for occupant comfort and low energy by following passive design principles.
  2. Energy efficient systems with performance monitoring – intelligently controlled & energy efficient systems to minimise loads – HVAC, lighting, vertical transportation. Data capture via inbuilt monitoring to enable performance validation, optimisation and refinement of predictive control strategies; including dissemination of performance data to building occupants.
  3. On-site renewable energy generation – renewable energy generation to be incorporated where appropriate. Renewable technologies should be selected holistically, given site conditions and building load profiles combining, where applicable both photovoltaic and solar thermal technologies.
  4. Energy storage – thermal and electrical storage should be considered to mitigate peak demand, reduce the requirement to oversize systems, and enable greater control, with a view to supporting the local infrastructure through time shifting of demand and controlled export; and enabling flexible control to enable virtual power plant integration.
  5. Electric vehicle integration – where appropriate Active Buildings integrate electric vehicle charging. Combined Charge Systems (CCS) with local control and the option of either virtual power plant (VPP) aggregated control or frequency response should be considered. As technology develops, bi-directional charging will allow electric vehicles to deliver energy to buildings as required, participate in demand side response and work with the wider building control systems.
  6. Intelligently manage integration with micro-grids & national energy network – in addition to intelligent controls, Active Buildings manage their interaction with wider energy networks, e.g. demand side response, load shifting & predictive control methods, aiming to minimise uncontrolled import or export of energy by effectively utilising the storage assets.

A single Active Building combines a range of integrated renewable energy technologies, which work together in one system to generate, store and release heat and electricity.

Therefore, using data from the building, the national grid and electric vehicles, the system can manage and optimise energy performance.

Conversely, although Active Buildings can be self-sufficient, they are not designed to operate in isolation. In fact, they use their ability to generate and store energy to exchange or trade with other buildings, the national grid or electric vehicles. This creates communities of energy that are more resilient to sudden changes in supply or demand.

How do Active Buildings benefit consumers and society?

  • Firstly, reduced energy consumption – independent modelled has shown they can reduce consumption by about 60% for the average UK home.
  • Secondly, lower fuel bills – the same modelling demonstrated that fuel bills could be reduced by over £600 for the average UK home.
  • Lower carbon emissions, supporting the UK’s Clean Growth Strategy, which sets out proposals for decarbonising all sectors of the UK economy, including construction and energy, over the next decade.
  • Energy independence – building owners and users are able to have control of their own supply. This leads to less dependence on national networks and fosters corporate, political and economic stability.
  • A flat load profile – which promotes grid stability. The novel feature of Active Buildings is their ability to function together as part of a de-centralised power distribution system through utilisation of energy storage and smart controls.
  • And finally, the opportunity for demand side response or energy balancing services (i.e. the ability to respond quickly to unexpected events in the national electricity network)

The Active Buildings Toolkit by Design Manager, Joanna Clarke:

SPECIFIC’s Design Manager, Joanna Clarke, is currently developing an ‘Active Buildings Toolkit’ as part of her doctoral research project (D.SBE). Therefore, if you’d like to understand the Active Buildings concept and design philosophy further, please explore the documents below:

Additionally, the following documents will be coming soon:

  • The complete Active Building Design Guide.
  • Case Studies for the Active Classroom and Office.
  • RIBA Plan of Work Checklists for Active Buildings.
  • Active Building project templates and technology showcase.
  • And finally, an Active Building process flow diagram.

In the meantime, check out Joanna’s weekly blog here: https://designingactivebuildings.blog/