About Matthew Reilly

Architectural Technician - Claremont

Technologist
United Kingdom

Climate change is an issue which has been in the public conscious for many years however relatively little has been done to combat the causes and effects.

The Paris accord, signed by countries throughout 2016, is widely considered to be the first major agreement between nations to work together and combat climate change. The main aim is to limit global temperatures to below 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels (1). The agreement has not been without controversy - most notably when the United States requested to withdraw from the accord at the earliest opportunity. The United States and China contribute approximately 40% of global emissions - a figure which could have worldwide effects should their targets not be achieved.

The construction industry has a huge role to play in helping to achieve the aims of the Paris accord and fight climate change in general. The industry is a large consumer of raw materials and is estimated to contribute 25-40% of the world’s carbon emissions (2). In addition, once occupied most buildings are only designed to perform at a base level (set out by building regulations) when it comes to energy use and performance – it’s this area specifically which I feel can significantly impact on the likes of the Paris accord and Climate change as a whole.

Generally new buildings are only constructed to comply with the minimum regulations and while there is nothing technically wrong with this, there is a feeling that the minimum requirements are seen as more of a target, when they really should be seen as something to be surpassed and bettered. Implementing higher quality design standards such as Passivhaus would help to drive up quality and improve the homes people live and use every day. Passivhaus slashes energy consumption (by as much as 90%) through highly detailed and efficient features such as triple glazing, as well as large quantities of insulation and utilising highly efficient Mechanical Ventilation Heat Recovery Systems (MVHR). The costs for implementing Passivhaus are generally only approximately 5% higher than for other retrofit or new build standards and the end user reaps huge rewards with much lower long term running costs and improved quality of life.

Other standards, such as BREEAM, also help in pushing up quality and reducing C02 emissions. High scoring buildings include One Angel Square in Manchester, the Edge in Amsterdam (3) and the Bloomberg headquarters in London (4) – which has recently surpassed the Edge as the highest scoring BREEAM building. Smart features are integral to the designs and consideration is even given to orientation. In addition to this, ground source heat pumps, a smart connected lighting system and the reuse of grey water are all examples of inventive and progressive designs, that raise standards in the industry and expectations amongst clients – it is the latter which is arguably the most important factor in helping the notoriously slow reacting industry to move forwards.

I believe it would be beneficial for the Government to implement a higher quality industry standard for both housing (with Passivhaus) and offices (with BREEAM) throughout the UK. This is something which could then be adapted by other countries or areas such as the United States or the European Union in an aim to meet targets, such as those as part of the Paris Accord.

In developing countries, where the above solutions may not be as feasible, 3D printed buildings should also be considered, especially in areas affected by natural disasters - the low cost, quick construction method and low impact on raw materials make them ideal to tackling climate change. The slightly more common use of converted shipping containers is another alternative method which also offers similar benefits.

Finally, the role of technology is also a growing part of fighting emissions and the impact they have. Elon Musk, founder of Tesla, has invented a system known as Powerwall, which can provide power to a house and reduce the consumption from the national grid. Google have also launched a programme called Project Sunroof, which allows homeowners to easily view the potential solar capacities of the roofs on their homes - a piece of software developed from their Google Maps feature. There’s also been a rise in wearable technology and mobile apps which help to control heating and lighting from anywhere - again reducing unnecessary consumption and cutting emissions.

All of the above has helped contribute to Green energy now being more cost effective than fossil fuels (5). This could help further develop renewable energy technology and the performance of their associated systems, as energy suppliers switch their attentions more significantly to greener energy.

References

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paris_Agreement

2. https://www.designingbuildings.co.uk/wiki/Top_4_challenges_facing_the_construction_industry

3. http://www.breeam.com/index.jsp?id=804

4. https://www.dezeen.com/2017/10/04/norman-fosters-bloomberg-european-headquarters-london-worlds-most-sustainable-office/

5. http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/solar-and-wind-power-cheaper-than-fossil-fuels-for-the-first-time-a7509251.html