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€6.4m project to revolutionise green building technology and help meet European energy targets

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A €6.4 million (£4.5m) project to revolutionise the way Europe delivers green buildings was launched in London today.  20 UK and European partners will create new smart tools and cloud computing platforms to transform the energy efficiency and construction industries.

Funded by the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 programme – an €80 billion research and innovation fund – the ‘Built to Specifications’ (Built2Spec) project will use new technology to radically improve the design, installation and testing of building standards and retrofit.  Together, the measures will help the European built environment hit 2050 carbon targets and reduce fuel poverty.

The built environment accounts for over 40 per cent of overall energy consumption in Europe and 36 per cent of CO2 emissions.  To successfully meet its overall carbon reduction targets, Europe is heavily reliant on reducing these levels through improved standards for new buildings and retrofitting existing buildings.

However, industry leaders have raised concerns about a “performance gap” between the official energy rating of buildings and the amount of energy they use in practice.  Current construction techniques and assessment methods mean that there are major defects and inefficiencies in this process and it is difficult to assess whether new build or retrofitted properties are actually performing as they should.

The Built2Spec project will use the latest developments in mobile and cloud technology, including smartphones and hand-held scanners, to make it vastly easier, quicker and cheaper to ensure Europe’s buildings are performing well and deliver carbon savings.  The four-year project is being delivered by a consortium of 20 organisations including universities, researchers, technology developers and contractors.

The four UK partners – BSRIA, VRM Technology, Lakehouse and the University of Nottingham – today launched their work at a conference hosted by the London Borough of Camden.  They will share an allocation of €1.24 million from the overall project budget.  The wider consortium includes industry leaders such as the Passivhaus Institut (Germany),Obrascón Huarte Lain (Spain), TNO (Netherlands), and the National University of Ireland Galway.  The project is being co-ordinated by French institutionNOBATEK.

Research and pilot projects will focus on how the industry can improve the way it inspects the energy efficiency, thermal performance, air-tightness, indoor air quality and acoustic performance of buildings.  Among a wide range of initiatives, the partners will develop new smartphone apps (iOS and Android) to perform 3D building scans; handheld thermal imaging devices; and ‘air pulse’ technology to test air-tightness with no need to seal and vacate a building.  New cloud-based platforms will be created to capture and share data from these tests, enabling seamless collaboration which can ultimately improve the design process and inform construction techniques.  The new systems will integrate fully with BIM technologies.

Built2Spec will focus on the domestic housing market and, in particular, on developing technology that can be scaled for use across large housing portfolios such as those held by housing associations and local authorities, who will participate in demonstration projects to trial the new technologies.

The new portable devices and cloud-based software will help housing providers and property owners identify the most suitable improvements for homes and where the biggest carbon savings can be made.  Innovative self-inspection techniques will help set a new standard in quality assurance and help improve standards for new build properties.  Together, this will help ensure the UK and Europe can hit its built environment carbon targets in a way that is cheaper, quicker and more sustainable.

BSRIA Ltd, a company providing specialist services in construction and building services, is involved in initiatives including developing building mapping and BIM integration with technologies such as air tightness and thermal imaging.

Ian Wallis, Research Manager at BSRIA Ltd, said: “We’re delighted to launch such an innovative project in partnership with a diverse and talented range of experts from across Europe.  Bringing together research, technology and on-the-ground installation, we can totally re-think the process of energy efficiency from end to end and focus on dramatically improving the way our buildings perform.  The Built2Spec project is about bringing the latest technology into use in construction.”

Lakehouse, the asset and energy support services provider, will help deliver demonstration projects in partnership with local authorities and housing associations. Simon Green, head of sustainability at Lakehouse, said: “This project has huge potential to revolutionise the way we deliver energy efficiency in Europe.

“At the moment, there’s a risk of a big performance gap between the energy rating of a building and how it actually performs.  One of the problems is that previously new technology has been difficult to apply in the field – we’re setting out to change that.  This project aims to accelerate R&D successes into the market and into people’s homes in a way which will help meet national and European carbon targets far more effectively.

“With the roll-out of smart metering across the UK by 2020, there’s a big opportunity to think much more holistically about how our buildings perform.  This can help us make real headway not only on energy efficiency but, crucially, also on fuel poverty.”

VRM Technology is the software provider to the consortium and will lead on the development of software and cloud computing support to integrate the assessment, estimation, design, installation and quality assurance processes.  This follows the successful launch of VRM’s construction works management app, ‘Refurbify’.  The University of Nottingham is developing new ‘air pulse’ technology to test air-tightness and identify opportunities to stop energy wastage.

Eoin McGuigan, chief operating officer at VRM, said: “VRM is excited to be in the vanguard of technological advancement in energy efficiency with so many eminent partners.  Built2Spec takes the latest innovations in mobile and cloud technology from the research centres of Europe and puts them into the real world to aid in the fight to reduce fuel poverty and achieve carbon targets throughout the EU.”

The University of Nottingham will lead on the integration of a new ‘PULSE’ air-tightness testing technique within the self-inspection platform.  The PULSE will help minimise the building performance gap by providing a quick and easy test which construction workers can undertake themselves directly.  PULSE enables quick checks (in less than one minute) from an autonomous, portable and robust unit, suitable for construction sites.

Dr Ed Cooper, Principle Investigator at the University of Nottingham, said: “The gap between design and performance of air-tightness in buildings can, at best, cause discomfort for occupants and, at worst, can create significant energy wastage and health problems. We’re excited by the opportunity to work with industry leading partners from across Europe to integrate the PULSE into the Built2Spec platform and make air-tightness testing more accessible to the construction industry.”

For further information, visit built2spec-project.eu.

Economy

Will Self-Driving Cars Be Better for the Environment?

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self-driving cars for green environment
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Zapp2Photo | https://www.shutterstock.com/g/zapp2photo

Technologists, engineers, lawmakers, and the general public have been excitedly debating about the merits of self-driving cars for the past several years, as companies like Waymo and Uber race to get the first fully autonomous vehicles on the market. Largely, the concerns have been about safety and ethics; is a self-driving car really capable of eliminating the human errors responsible for the majority of vehicular accidents? And if so, who’s responsible for programming life-or-death decisions, and who’s held liable in the event of an accident?

But while these questions continue being debated, protecting people on an individual level, it’s worth posing a different question: how will self-driving cars impact the environment?

The Big Picture

The Department of Energy attempted to answer this question in clear terms, using scientific research and existing data sets to project the short-term and long-term environmental impact that self-driving vehicles could have. Its findings? The emergence of self-driving vehicles could essentially go either way; it could reduce energy consumption in transportation by as much as 90 percent, or increase it by more than 200 percent.

That’s a margin of error so wide it might as well be a total guess, but there are too many unknown variables to form a solid conclusion. There are many ways autonomous vehicles could influence our energy consumption and environmental impact, and they could go well or poorly, depending on how they’re adopted.

Driver Reduction?

One of the big selling points of autonomous vehicles is their capacity to reduce the total number of vehicles—and human drivers—on the road. If you’re able to carpool to work in a self-driving vehicle, or rely on autonomous public transportation, you’ll spend far less time, money, and energy on your own car. The convenience and efficiency of autonomous vehicles would therefore reduce the total miles driven, and significantly reduce carbon emissions.

There’s a flip side to this argument, however. If autonomous vehicles are far more convenient and less expensive than previous means of travel, it could be an incentive for people to travel more frequently, or drive to more destinations they’d otherwise avoid. In this case, the total miles driven could actually increase with the rise of self-driving cars.

As an added consideration, the increase or decrease in drivers on the road could result in more or fewer vehicle collisions, respectively—especially in the early days of autonomous vehicle adoption, when so many human drivers are still on the road. Car accident injury cases, therefore, would become far more complicated, and the roads could be temporarily less safe.

Deadheading

Deadheading is a term used in trucking and ridesharing to refer to miles driven with an empty load. Assume for a moment that there’s a fleet of self-driving vehicles available to pick people up and carry them to their destinations. It’s a convenient service, but by necessity, these vehicles will spend at least some of their time driving without passengers, whether it’s spent waiting to pick someone up or en route to their location. The increase in miles from deadheading could nullify the potential benefits of people driving fewer total miles, or add to the damage done by their increased mileage.

Make and Model of Car

Much will also depend on the types of cars equipped to be self-driving. For example, Waymo recently launched a wave of self-driving hybrid minivans, capable of getting far better mileage than a gas-only vehicle. If the majority of self-driving cars are electric or hybrids, the environmental impact will be much lower than if they’re converted from existing vehicles. Good emissions ratings are also important here.

On the other hand, the increased demand for autonomous vehicles could put more pressure on factory production, and make older cars obsolete. In that case, the gas mileage savings could be counteracted by the increased environmental impact of factory production.

The Bottom Line

Right now, there are too many unanswered questions to make a confident determination whether self-driving vehicles will help or harm the environment. Will we start driving more, or less? How will they handle dead time? What kind of models are going to be on the road?

Engineers and the general public are in complete control of how this develops in the near future. Hopefully, we’ll be able to see all the safety benefits of having autonomous vehicles on the road, but without any of the extra environmental impact to deal with.

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Economy

New Zealand to Switch to Fully Renewable Energy by 2035

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renewable energy policy
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Eviart / https://www.shutterstock.com/g/adrian825

New Zealand’s prime minister-elect Jacinda Ardern is already taking steps towards reducing the country’s carbon footprint. She signed a coalition deal with NZ First in October, aiming to generate 100% of the country’s energy from renewable sources by 2035.

New Zealand is already one of the greenest countries in the world, sourcing over 80% of its energy for its 4.7 million people from renewable resources like hydroelectric, geothermal and wind. The majority of its electricity comes from hydro-power, which generated 60% of the country’s energy in 2016. Last winter, renewable generation peaked at 93%.

Now, Ardern is taking on the challenge of eliminating New Zealand’s remaining use of fossil fuels. One of the biggest obstacles will be filling in the gap left by hydropower sources during dry conditions. When lake levels drop, the country relies on gas and coal to provide energy. Eliminating fossil fuels will require finding an alternative source to avoid spikes in energy costs during droughts.

Business NZ’s executive director John Carnegie told Bloomberg he believes Ardern needs to balance her goals with affordability, stating, “It’s completely appropriate to have a focus on reducing carbon emissions, but there needs to be an open and transparent public conversation about the policies and how they are delivered.”

The coalition deal outlined a few steps towards achieving this, including investing more in solar, which currently only provides 0.1% of the country’s energy. Ardern’s plans also include switching the electricity grid to renewable energy, investing more funds into rail transport, and switching all government vehicles to green fuel within a decade.

Zero net emissions by 2050

Beyond powering the country’s electricity grid with 100% green energy, Ardern also wants to reach zero net emissions by 2050. This ambitious goal is very much in line with her focus on climate change throughout the course of her campaign. Environmental issues were one of her top priorities from the start, which increased her appeal with young voters and helped her become one of the youngest world leaders at only 37.

Reaching zero net emissions would require overcoming challenging issues like eliminating fossil fuels in vehicles. Ardern hasn’t outlined a plan for reaching this goal, but has suggested creating an independent commission to aid in the transition to a lower carbon economy.

She also set a goal of doubling the number of trees the country plants per year to 100 million, a goal she says is “absolutely achievable” using land that is marginal for farming animals.

Greenpeace New Zealand climate and energy campaigner Amanda Larsson believes that phasing out fossil fuels should be a priority for the new prime minister. She says that in order to reach zero net emissions, Ardern “must prioritize closing down coal, putting a moratorium on new fossil fuel plants, building more wind infrastructure, and opening the playing field for household and community solar.”

A worldwide shift to renewable energy

Addressing climate change is becoming more of a priority around the world and many governments are assessing how they can reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and switch to environmentally-friendly energy sources. Sustainable energy is becoming an increasingly profitable industry, giving companies more of an incentive to invest.

Ardern isn’t alone in her climate concerns, as other prominent world leaders like Justin Trudeau and Emmanuel Macron have made renewable energy a focus of their campaigns. She isn’t the first to set ambitious goals, either. Sweden and Norway share New Zealand’s goal of net zero emissions by 2045 and 2030, respectively.

Scotland already sources more than half of its electricity from renewable sources and aims to fully transition by 2020, while France announced plans in September to stop fossil fuel production by 2040. This would make it the first country to do so, and the first to end the sale of gasoline and diesel vehicles.

Many parts of the world still rely heavily on coal, but if these countries are successful in phasing out fossil fuels and transitioning to renewable resources, it could serve as a turning point. As other world leaders see that switching to sustainable energy is possible – and profitable – it could be the start of a worldwide shift towards environmentally-friendly energy.

Sources: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-11-06/green-dream-risks-energy-security-as-kiwis-aim-for-zero-carbon

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-france-hydrocarbons/france-plans-to-end-oil-and-gas-production-by-2040-idUSKCN1BH1AQ

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