Low carbon buildings - pioneering a low carbon future

Supplementary content information

An introduction to the RCUK Energy Programme, and how it is helping the transition to a low-carbon economy. This excerpt looks at low-carbon buildings.

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Professor Dennis Loveday – Loughborough University

The machine behind me is an indoor solar simulator. It simulates sunlight using a series of lamps. The sunlight is radiated onto the test surface on the opposite side of the cage and in that cage we can place components of buildings as if they were integral parts of a building structure. That allows us to measure the thermal performance of those devices when bathed in sunlight and the entire process is about improving the performance of devices and improving their efficiency to lead us towards a low carbon future.

Professor Kevin Lomas – Loughborough University

Buildings are about 40 per cent of the UK’s carbon dioxide emissions and so they’re one of the prime targets for trying to meet government CO2 reduction ambitions. A lot of our work is based on developing computer models of buildings, models which help us to understand how energy is used, the contribution which renewable energy technologies might make and also which can be used by central government and local authorities to develop their carbon reduction policies.

A lot of the uncertainty in making predictions of building energy demand relates to the people in the building and how they behave. Energy consumption is hugely influenced by equipment, lights, appliances, computers, televisions and the way that equipment is used by people. A lot of the work to understand energy demand is multi-disciplinary, bringing together social scientists who understand behaviour with traditional engineers and building physicists who understand about the fabric and the energy systems.

To give you a practical example we can measure the energy demand of buildings and the internal temperatures using traditional scientific monitoring techniques, but on the other hand we can use social science survey methods to understand the socio economic status of households and get an inventory of the lights and appliances in households. By comparing the two we can start to better understand the relationship between people and energy demand.

A lot of our work is of direct interest to energy companies as well as local authorities and central government. And in a way having worked in this field for 25 years it feels like finally our moment has come and it’s almost impossible to satisfy all the different demands that different stakeholders have for the work that we do. If we have buildings which consume less energy, then the demand on the system is reduced and renewable energy technologies, be it wind, wave and some would say nuclear, has a much greater chance of meeting a higher proportion of our energy needs.