Residential energy is saved and vulnerable gain skills through behaviour change project.
With a quarter of carbon dioxide emissions in the UK coming from the residential sector, there’s a need to find new ways to help households reduce energy use. While some of this is related to building condition and type, much is related to the way people use energy. In the last two years we have been working to tackle this issue in Wiltshire homes, and meanwhile provide a social benefit.
The project, Achieve, began life in Frankfurt five years ago to address the combined issues of high fuel costs and rising unemployment. In Germany if you’re unemployed the state covers your energy bills, so an idea was born to tackle both issues at once. Achieve trains and supports the unemployed to provide energy advice directly to vulnerable consumers – often their peers – in their homes, resulting in saved energy, changed behaviours and meanwhile helping people reintegrate into the job market.
At Severn Wye Energy Agency, an independent charity and not-for-profit that promotes sustainable energy, we spotted the potential and with European funding partnered with Wiltshire Council to run a series of training programmes. The programmes provide advice to residents struggling to pay energy bills and, meanwhile, the local unemployed to gain valuable new skills. To date we’ve trained seven advisers, helped more than 200 families and, as a consortium, reached over 1,700 homes in France, Bulgaria, Slovenia and Germany.
Gary Hardman of Trowbridge, who first became interested in Achieve through his local Job Centre Plus in the summer of 2012 has now undertaken more than 100 visits, and said: “I had never thought of working in this area, but I’m finding it really exciting and I have already found loads of ways to save in my own home.”
Achieve involves two free home visits. During the first, the trained advisers assess the home including bills and areas where energy is being wasted. This could include: the use of tungsten or halogen lighting, appliances routinely left on standby, or draughty doors and windows. The adviser then assesses which of a number of simple energy-saving devices may offer the greatest benefits for the household based on their current energy tariffs, and critically what this will mean for them in financial terms. On the second visit, the adviser installs the most appropriate devices and presents a report outlining their findings – including the time the original investment will take to be repaid to the household.
Key to the design of Achieve was that we did not want to rely completely on the ability of people to make long-term changes to their behaviour in order to make savings. Rather, we wanted to show people some small savings that they could make by installing simple devices. Through this, people are educated about the cost of specific appliances and will motivate others to go further with their own behaviour change.
One particular device that has proved successful in the savings reached and in its acceptance by clients is the retrofitting of halogen down lighters with LED equivalents. Having limited funding, we were usually only able to install one or two bulbs – an array typically has between three and five bulbs, and some households have more than 10 50-watt bulbs. This gave the client the opportunity to test the technology and to consider the return on further investment. During return visits we were pleasantly surprised to find a number of clients, despite their limited budget, had invested in further LEDs.
We also focused on highlighting the cost of appliances on standby, such as obsolete and unused video-players costing over £30 a year. While the savings are quite modest for individual modern appliances cumulatively they can soon add up. Where funding prevented us from installing a device, we were still able to translate the energy use into monetary terms for the resident, and it is this translation that we believe is key. Combined with educational material and remote support, we caught resident’s interest and have seen them take further energy-saving steps themselves.
In some cases the project has been able to go further and help households to access funding toward heating and insulation measures. One client in Melksham commented: “Top service. Thanks to your report, our housing association funded our switch from Economy 7 storage heaters to full gas central heating, making savings of about £45 a week.”
Climate change discussions and calls to reduce emissions will only go so far, and with so many people. But innovative projects like Achieve demonstrate how behaviour change can be achieved through tailored advice and a focus on the bottom line.
High performing and secure ICT solution provider, Datacentrix, has been helping keep the lights on (and off) – literally – at Hotel Verde, South Africa’s greenest hotel and the first hotel in Africa to offer carbon-neutral accommodation and conferencing.
Hotel Verde was built to be as sustainable as possible from the ground up. This includes energy-efficient LEDs used for lighting throughout the hotel, with a number of controls helping reduce the energy they consume, such as motion sensors in all public areas that activate the lights and switch them off after 15 minutes if there’s no further movement. The hotel also uses light level sensors, which measure the amount of light that’s available – including natural light from windows and skylights – and dims or brightens the output of the lights to ensure only the required amount of light is given out at any time.
Appointed to roll-out a number of systems prior to the official opening of the energy and water-efficient hotel two years ago, Datacentrix initially implemented the lighting control system, together with biometric access control, building and property management systems, video conferencing facilities, an audio and video system, room management software, and a video surveillance solution and storage.
The company also put into operation a structured cabling infrastructure (including telephone, BMS cabling and Ethernet, which enables guests to view a dedicated television channel that displays the hotel’s most updated energy and water consumption statistics, as well as its waste management), a managed power over Ethernet (POE) local area network (LAN), firewalls, fibre Internet connectivity, telephone and WiFi systems, and a staff time-and-attendance solution.
Besides this, Datacentrix still interfaces with a number of the third party solution providers as part of its multiyear outsourcing agreement with Hotel Verde. “We are currently in full swing in terms of the maintenance side of our project,” explains Hotel Verde operations manager, Philippe Marechal. “Datacentrix provides us with managed services to maintain hardware, such as our network equipment, desktops and printers, and also assists with maintaining other systems, for example, our telephone solution, acting as a single point of contact for Hotel Verde.
“Datacentrix has a good understanding of the hospitality industry and its specific needs, having worked with several local hotel groups,” says Marechal. “It was the obvious choice when it came to appointing an IT infrastructure and services partner, working very closely with Hotel Verde when it came to setting up our facilities from scratch, and still assisting with the management of our other service providers.”
Aside from its experience within the hospitality sector, Datacentrix also met Hotel Verde’s non-negotiable service provider criterion of being located within a maximum of 160 kilometres from the hotel, as part of its carbon-offsetting programme, which complements the hotel’s other green initiatives. “Not only does Hotel Verde offer guests and conference delegates a carbon-neutral stay at the hotel by offsetting carbon emissions through responsible carbon capturing and reduction projects, we also believe in responsible procurement.
“This means that our suppliers are chosen based on the sustainability of their own practices and their proximity to the hotel. To reduce the carbon impact of transportation, all suppliers used by Hotel Verde must be based within a 160km radius,” he adds.
Hotel Verde is the first hotel in Africa to achieve the Platinum LEED certification level, as assigned by the United States Green Building Council. In addition, it was the recipient of the Imvelo Award 2014 by Lilizela for Best Overall Environmental Management System, and won the World Responsible Tourism Award 2014 by World Travel Market, London for Best City Hotel.
“It has been a real honour for Datacentrix to be involved in the establishment of this exceptional, sustainably operated business,” says Juane Peacock, managing director: coastal regions and Enterprise Information Management (EIM) at Datacentrix. “One of our strategic imperatives involves building long-term partnerships with customers, which enables an intimate understanding of their business and its systems. To have been involved with Hotel Verde since the very beginning has allowed us to help create the most efficient, effective technology environment for them.”
Electric cars, LED lighting, reusable bags; many a green innovation has gone mainstream in recent years – and now energy storage is joining the list.
With new tech start-ups entering the scene this year to produce storage batteries, costs for storing energy are set to fall, making 2016 the year of battery storage around the world.
Why the focus on storage? More companies are turning to wind and solar energy but weather patterns are far from consistent. By storing the energy produced in batteries, it can be released for use when it is needed, and not only throughout the day, but from season to season as well.
Energy storage has already taken off in some markets around the world, driven by renewable energy generation, but has largely been overlooked so far in Britain, mainly because of the high cost of implementing storage technologies.
In some markets, such as the US, Germany, and Japan, energy storage is being used commercially. In the US, about 13 per cent of electricity comes from renewable sources and in Germany it equates to around 30 per cent of electricity consumed. And the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) pumped $700 million into energy storage for Japan in 2015.
Investing now to build energy storage systems that take advantage of local, renewable resources could ultimately save companies money by paving the way to energy independence. “It’s a huge advantage to keep energy locally and bring it back locally when you need it, without having to transport it across the country,” says Franz Jenowein, Sustainability Consulting Director at JLL.
The cost of energy storage needs to come down for the commercial real estate industry to embrace it. “Although there’s excitement around the numbers, it might take up to 10 years for companies to get their return on investment,” says Jenowein.
Knowledge of a new technology is one thing; actually using it is quite another. The photovoltaic (PV) effect, responsible for converting light into energy, for example, isn’t new: a 19-year-old French physicist discovered it in 1839.
“Solar PV panels were first used by space satellites in the late 1950s. And battery storage technology has come a long way, but it’s only really come onto the radar with Tesla,” says Jenowein who noted that the premium, electric vehicle automaker used a “very clever communications strategy to make something as geeky as a battery attractive.”
Introducing super batteries
Batteries, pumped-storage systems, ice storage, and heat thermal storage make up some of the more common energy storage technologies for use during peak demand to bring grid usage down and to compensate for peak electricity tariffs. But super batteries, the same types that power electric vehicles, are the current focus of tech companies ever since Tesla introduced the Powerwall energy storage system for homes in May 2015.
Energy stored in batteries provides a promising way to store renewable energy for buildings, too. They can power lights, computers, heating and cooling equipment during peak times, can take over during power outages, and they provide an alternative to fossil fuel powered back-up generators.
Storage battery systems have two functions. “The beauty is that you not only generate energy, but you also have an energy holding technology. Batteries can be connected to the power grid, potentially playing a key role in the emerging smart grids,” says Jenowein. Once you put energy storage systems in buildings and connect to the grid, they become part of this new energy ecosystem.
Getting into the act
More UK tech start-ups are getting into the act by developing their own storage batteries, which they can sell to commercial building owners, in a sort of “storage war” competition, with companies such as Powervault, Moixa Technology, and redT.
Powervault, for example, plans to “take on Tesla” by providing home energy storage systems for British homeowners. Moixa’s system is for residential and commercial uses, and redT’s is for industrial and utility-scale usage.
Although this technology is still prohibitively expensive for widespread use, as production increases and more companies get into the game, prices will go down. “Costs are expected to fall 40 percent over the next five years,” according to JLL’s 2016 Sustainability Trends report.
Jenowein paints a picture of the environment in the UK today: a recognition by building managers of higher electricity rates during day peak times and a willingness to do something about it, and the technology solutions of the batteries. He says that lots of components need to come together for energy storage to become more prevalent, such as regulatory elements, subsidies and incentives, and software to integrate the technologies.
“The challenge is to make it all work together,” says Jenowein. His prediction: energy storage for use in commercial office buildings will be more commonplace, but probably not before 2025 or 2030.
Wish you could have the warmth of a candle, and the brightness of an LED? Meet the Lumir C, a brilliant LED lamp that’s powered by the heat of a tiny tealight candle. Launched (and successfully funded) on Kickstarter, the Lumir C offers an eco-friendly alternative to lighting that’s not only beautiful, but also has off-grid applications and is more reliable than solar.
Lumir C creator Jehwan Park was inspired to create the candle-powered LED lamp after a trip he took to India in 2014. While there, he witnessed firsthand the “seriousness of blackouts” and was shocked to learn that as many as 1.3 billion people around the world still lack access to reliable electricity. Many households in developing countries still work by candlelight at night; however, the flames are often not bright enough to see properly. Thus, Park and his design team created a solution to light up an entire room with just one candle.
Park’s first product is the Lumir C, a lighthouse-shaped lamp that generates electric light from the heat of a candle flame. When placed on top of a candle, the lamp’s large heatsink draws the flame’s thermal energy and, thanks to the Seebeck effect, turns the temperature difference between the hot and cold air into thermoelectricity that powers the LED at the top of the lamp, which glows 15 to 60 times brighter than candlelight. For a special touch, the design team recommends using a scented candle.
The candle-powered Lumir C lamp is still available on Kickstarter, which has already surpassed its $50,000 funding goal, and can be purchased for the early-bird price of $59. The Lumir C team also created a low-cost option, the Lumir K, which uses the same technology as Lumir C but will not be sold for profit and was created to help developing countries such as the Philippines.
Harnessing the power from a fundamental process that’s happening constantly, all over the world, a team of scientists at Columbia University have devised tiny engines powered by evaporation. The devices generate electricity from the energy produced by bacterial spores known as Bacillus subtilis, which exhibit strong mechanical responses to changing relative humidity.
The spores expand when they absorb water and contract when they dry out. By controlling the moisture in the air, produced by evaporation, that the spores are exposed to, the devices grab the energy of these expansions and contractions to drive rotary or piston engines. The research was published on Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications.
The idea sprang from research into the mechanical properties of the subtilis spores, which can exist in a dormant state for hundreds of years, being conducted by a Columbia microbiologist.
“It struck me as amazing how much mechanical energy they seem to have,” says Ozgur Sahin, an associate professor of biological sciences at the university. “They are so rigid that as the material’s shape changes it produces a lot of energy.”
Sahin glued the spores to a tape made of polyimide — a polymer used in fuel cells, computer displays, and various military applications — and surrounded them with a shutter mechanism that controls the passage of moisture. The shutter is essentially an oscillator, a mechanical switch like an electrical circuit, which opens and closes in response to the force produced by the spore changing shape. The opening and closing of the switch produces the regular pulsing of the swelling and shrinking spores. When the shutter is open, moisture escapes to the air and the spore dries out; when it closes, moisture fills the gap, the humidity increases, and the material expands.
An 8-centimeter by 8-centimeter water surface can produce about 2 microwatts of electricity (a microwatt is one-millionth of a watt), on average, and can burst up to 60 microwatts, says Sahin. That doesn’t sound like a lot of electricity; so far Sahin and his team have used the evaporation engines to power an LED and a miniature car that weighs a tenth of a kilogram.
“We made lot of compromises in creating this version in hopes of creating a self-sufficient device,” he says. “We know actually that it can be made 100 times more powerful by solving number of problems.”
Those solutions include adjusting the size of the moisture cavities and the mechanism of the shutters that control the flow of moisture. Sahin believes that arrays of the devices on the surface of lakes or other bodies of water could produce a scalable renewable energy technology, but that is likely years off, if it ever happens at all. One possible use could be to create battery-size “bricks” of spores than can be activated to produce electricity — just add water.
The value of the tiny engines, however, may lie more in demonstrating the ubiquity of natural energy that can, at least in theory, be harnessed by relatively simple and cheap devices, rather than in any practical application in the near term.
Follow Alive2Green on Social Media
Alexander Kolbe, co-owner of ecoDOMUS, an architectural firm that specializes in prefab construction to build green homes that are highly energy efficient, says that, “Given the choice of spending a sizable sum of money for a home that consumes energy at an alarming rate, or spending slightly more initially to benefit from substantially lower utility costs, and thereby helping to conserving our planet’s limited supply of fossil fuels, we at evoDOMUS believe that the latter can prevail … the key is to make it an easily understandable and obtainable choice. Also, this ‘healthy for the planet’ choice need not look healthy, nor must it look like it is good for the planet! It can look bodacious, chic, generous and new, without being bad for anyone.”
The proof of Kolbe’s design concept is this new home he designed for a client in New Canaan, Connecticut. Using prefab modular, panelized construction is the key to energy efficiency, project manager Rob Shearer said in a recent interview.
“When the exterior envelope is constructed in a controlled environment, with precision machinery to assure that everything is flush and square, it makes all of the tiny gaps and cracks inherent to any type of construction much smaller, and easier to seal,” Shearer said.
“In addition, the panel joints are gasketed, and the overall effect is an extremely tight enclosure. Controlling air infiltration is crucial to an efficient, healthy home. Not only for controlling temperature, but also humidity. It is a common misconception among builders that ‘houses need to breathe.’ Houses do not need to breathe. People need to breathe.”
Such air tight construction requires the use of mechanical ventilation system to control the distribution of fresh air throughout the house. Heating and cooling are handled by two Mitsubishi mini split heat pumps, one per floor. The14″ thick walls have an R-35 rating and the roof is rated R-60.
The facade of the house on the first floor is made by Resysta- a wall covering made of rice husks, natural oils and resin. The second floor is finished with StoTherm stucco system that adds a continuous additional layer of insulation. The bathroom fixtures are all water-saving, low-flow fixtures. All tiles in the house have a high recycled material content and LED or CFL lighting is used throughout the home to save energy.
Since designing this prefab home, ecoDOMUS has been tapped for two more homes in Connecticut as well as projects in California, New York, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Florida and Medellin, Colombia.
Source: Green Building Elements
Image: AOL Real Estate
Attend the Green building Conference at Sustainability Week.
24-25 June 2015.
Book your seat here.
Follow Alive2Green on Social Media