Ecobuild

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Every year London plays host to Ecobuild, a show that proves that sustainable building design isn’t just lip service in the UK

Walking around Ecobuild at London’s Excel centre, it was clear to see where most sustainable efforts are being made — heating systems, building energy control, solar geothermal and wind power, water management, insulation, new low carbon materials, construction systems, ventilation and waste management.

There was some concentration on refurbishment, although the UK populace has seemingly ignored the Green Deal from the government. This could be due to the high interest rates (7%) on loans to install up to 40 different energy saving technologies in their homes. The government hopes to have over one million energy improvement devices in homes by 2015.

The single biggest challenge for the UK is bringing the current building stock in line with low energy targets. The majority of buildings and the building codes they were built to fall way below what is now standard. There is a huge part to play for energy analysis software in the retrofit market.

My favourite stand was a ‘materials of the future’ display, which included an array of wonderful technologies that are just becoming available, such as flexible concrete (yes, it bends), invisible photovoltaics that can be built into glazing, turning every window into a power source and my all time favourite: transparent concrete.

Transparent concrete has layers of fibre optics and concrete, to create concrete with ‘pixels’ that from a distance appears to glow. I’m not sure how load bearing such walls would be. And as to how it would be rendered in a BIM tool, I have no idea.

BIM at Ecobuild

There was plenty of design technology on show from a host of tech firms that we cover in AEC magazine; Graphisoft, Cadfaster, Tekla, Solibri, Vectorworks and IES to name a few. It was good to see the exhibitors operating under the OpenBIM umbrella (buildingsmart.org/openbim) and even sharing stands.

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Autodesk and Bentley were conspicuous by their absence; with VectorWorks really having the biggest presence at the event. From what I could see, the BIM arena was very popular on the day I visited, with a prime position in the main hall.

The CAD vendors have been quick to include retrofit tools into their core applications as well as energy analysis tools, or links to tools. With BIM now very much in the spotlight, modelling and analysing new and retrofit designs is a clear advantage over traditional 2D documentation strategies. A number of people I talked to were SketchUp users who were using some of the free building performance analysis tools available, including the IES VE SketchUp plug-in, which reports annual energy consumption, C02 emissions and UK SBEM compliance.

IES

IES made announcements on its new consultancy service, which is aimed at finding hidden costs and energy savings in existing building operations. I talked with Craig Wheatley, director, about the new service and the Scottish firm’s future strategy.

The service will allow owners, operators, sustainability and FM managers to manage and optimise energy usage across existing building portfolios, comparing reality vs expected performance. It can be used to define refurbishment strategies to maximise cost savings in energy usage. According to Dr Wheatley this technical capability has never before been available to the construction industry and includes special cases such as data centres, factories and warehouses, where operational processes need to be integrated within the building model.

Energy analysis has traditionally played a role in the design of buildings or in confirming design changes to existing buildings. IES is moving analysis from design to operations. Here Dr Wheatley explained that the ultimate goal is to have real-time building analysis throughout the lifespan of a building to assist in efficient running, as well as identifying when there are potential problems, such as failure of building components or changes in usage, which require upgraded systems. This would be possible with remote sensors and regular input of other data such as energy bills.

Conclusion

Design decisions make all the difference between an inefficient and an efficient building. It was an eye opener to see so much focus on control, measurement and management at the event. It was enlightening to see that analysis, which is not used enough at present, may become embedded within the fabric of future buildings, as a real time system.

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