INVESTING INTEREST IN RENEWABLES

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25th September to 1st October is World Green Building week[1], highlighting how buildings can be ‘heroes’ in tackling climate change. A key part of that solution must come from using our buildings to generate their own power, becoming net zero energy.

The New Energy Outlook 2017, the latest long-term forecast from Bloomberg New Energy Finance, estimates that renewable energy sources will take 72% of the $10.2 trillion the world will invest in new power generation by 2040[2]. Whilst this is undeniably positive news for our planet and our industry, there is still ongoing cynicism surrounding the capacity of renewables to wean us off our centuries-old dependency on fossil fuels, particularly when it comes down to the issue of cost.

Whatever the Weather

If there’s one thing we are sure about here in the UK, it’s that you can’t rely on the weather forecast. Variability has always been a key point of contention for wind and solar-powered energy production. On windless, overcast days, wind turbines and solar arrays will generally under-perform, or generate nothing at all. By the same token, on very windy and bright days, they can produce an excess of energy which can be wasted if it exceeds the demand.

This is where batteries come in. They can help companies to harvest this excess energy and store it for times when energy production is low. This smooths out the peaks and troughs in supply to offer a consistent and reliable solution which can match the supply from conventional gas and coal-fired power stations. As Simon Virley, a former senior energy department official and a current partner at KPMG, stated in an article for the Financial Times, “[the use of battery technology] is a game-changer for the way the power system works in the GB market. I think it’s the biggest disruption there will be over the next five to 10 years.”[3]

To illustrate how this works in practice, let’s look at one of our recently-completed projects: Hub 69.

A Building of Firsts

Hub 69 is a 6,039 m2 warehouse and office space, situated in a prime location on the edge of Birmingham, constructed by IM Properties. It is set to be the country’s first industrial and logistics space that could effectively benefit from zero electricity bills in the launch of their first Electricity Cost Neutral (ECN) building. To do this, they have combined Kingspan’s photovoltaic panels with next-generation battery technology – the first time this has been done in the UK – helping it to become the first EPC A+ non-domestic building in Birmingham, and EPC A+ B2/B8 building in the West Midlands.

The system is simple and logical. 250 kW Kingspan Energy Roof Mounted PV Solar panels, with a forecast generation of 224,286 kWhr, supply electricity straight to the building for immediate use. Any extra power is then used to charge the 100 kW /170 kWh battery, which will automatically supply the building with power when there is a dip in energy production from the solar array, such as at night. This ensures a continuous supply and no interruptions to business. If more electricity is still needed, power can be drawn down directly from the grid to supply both the building and the battery as required. The battery can also charge itself from the grid at times when the tariff is at its cheapest, in a process called peak shaving. Any excess power generated from the solar array can be exported back to the grid to off-set any costs of doing this.

Producing renewable energies that can meet the demand and easily be integrated in the building design is a crucial part of the strategy. But these technologies must also be economically viable for developers in the first place. At present, constructing a new building which successfully generates its own renewable energy requires greater upfront investment than simply connecting to the grid.

Nonetheless, as the old adage goes, this is a marathon not a sprint, and it is essential to think about the medium to long term cost benefits. The final blog in our series looks in detail at the business case behind Hub 69, and reminds us of the hidden costs we face if we don’t change.

[1] http://www.worldgbc.org/worldgreenbuildingweek

[2] https://about.bnef.com/new-energy-outlook/

[3] https://www.ft.com/content/b62b356e-2d10-11e6-bf8d-26294ad519fc

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