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Energy Explorers: How can we make our buildings more energy efficient?

Blog : 24 February 2017

This week Exeter City Futures is pleased to introduce work experience student Leo – our first Energy Explorer. Over the course of the week Leo will be exploring issues surrounding energy efficiency in the Exeter region and sharing his own experiences of commuting, renewable energy generation and making buildings more energy efficient.

In this blog Leo explores what’s been done at his school, Colyton Grammar, to make it more energy efficient, and what’s being done at Oxygen House where Exeter City Futures is currently based.

 

The energy efficiency of our buildings is a large concern for us when considering issues such as ‘where our energy inputs come from?’ and ‘do they meet the needs of our outputs?’

 

How has a student-led energy project at Colyton Grammar School identified energy inefficiency problems?

In November 2015, Colyton Grammar School’s Green Society took part in an Energy Savings Week from The Pod (run by EDF). A team of students collected data including meter readings and room surveys across the school over a fortnight to understand where and who uses the most energy efficiently.

Our results suggested that the publicity of switch off fortnight made an overall energy output reduction by about 8%; that the science/tech block was the most energy inefficient (because the lights were on when the building was unused); and that the younger years were better at using their tutor rooms with greater energy efficiency than the sixth form students.

 

What has my school done to make the building more energy efficient?

Within my secondary school career, Colyton has invested in solar PV panels that have been installed on the roofs of the canteen and science/tech block – these renewable sources provide some of the energy the school uses.

We also have a small biomass boiler that uses our food waste from the canteen to connect with and heat buildings within the school.

Our new ‘smart’ Cottrill Hall refurbishment (that was completed in the summer of 2015), addressed several issues of the old hall; including a building plan redesign, replacing the asbestos roof, and updating the insulations, heating, and ventilation systems.

This has allowed us to replace old single glazing with double glazed windows and install new condensing boilers that work in tandem with a smart ventilation system that can monitor carbon dioxide levels in the hall.

 

So how have the staff and students decreased their energy consumption?

Overall, the school’s community has become more aware that windows should be closed if the heating is on and that a room being used by few people does not always need to be lit. This has allowed us to use our buildings more energy efficiently by considering our occupation densities.

 

What are the challenges in making Oxygen House more energy inefficient?

As for Oxygen House there is currently an investigation into the energy efficiency of the building by Anthony Vickers, a member of the City Science team. He is using data collected half-hourly from across the building from 35 sub-meters, to build a picture of its exact energy consumption.

His concerns are that excess energy is being used on heating, ventilation, and lighting in parts of the building and also that there is a mismatch between the design use and actual use of energy in the building.

For this, he has built a database to aid with energy analytics and aims to eventually make the building carbon neutral as a result of the audit.

 

What is happening to make the building more energy efficient?

Firstly, the 200-strong workforce, employed by the different businesses within Oxygen House, are encouraged to reduce their energy consumption in order to save energy, money, and the environment.

However, this alone could only reduce the building’s energy by a small amount as a certain demand is always required. Small retrofitting changes that have been made to the building include replacing many lights with LED bulbs, which last longer and are a more energy efficient investment.

 

Are there any future plans for retrofitting?

By physically generating more renewable energy onsite Oxygen House could significantly offset some of its energy demands. Anthony’s vision is to install further ground or roof-mounted solar PV arrays to Oxygen House.

There is also potential for a biomass boiler to be installed, he says, to improve the energy input to and overall efficiency of the smart HVAC (Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning) system that is already in place.

Other energy saving cutbacks, such as the excessive cooling load in the server room, may need to be made in order to decrease demands.

 

So what does this all mean for us?

For those building new homes, it means designing and pre-installing them with modern, efficient materials and systems. One example of an efficient, low-energy building design style is Passivhaus, in which new buildings require little energy for space heating or cooling.

We can also ensure that the occupancy density is fit for the design and purpose of our buildings by considering how many people will use a space and what lighting and HVAC systems should be put in place.

When retrofitting existing buildings, we can consider which solutions are going to be the most energy efficient, but also cost-effective. Retrofitting is generally harder and costs more than implementing systems within the initial building design.

Finally, although it may have a small overall impact, the cheapest and easiest way to reduce our energy efficiency in buildings is to reduce our energy consumption.

 

If you want to become an Energy Explorer like Leo share your experiences with us on Twitter @ExeCityFutures or on our Facebook page. Let us know how much energy you’re using, and how you’re making your lifestyle more energy efficient.