Let sustainability be the watchword

As the new millennium dawns, mankind is waking up to the fact that it cannot continue in its profligate ways. Many have concluded that if humanity is to enjoy any kind of future, we must start taking the idea of sustainable development a whole lot more seriously.

Sustainable development has many aspects. It is about reducing pollution and increasing waste recycling, about transport alternatives and farming methods that do not change the environment, about protecting communities and regeneration of local habitats. It is also very much about improving energy efficiency and using alternative forms of energy.

Fortunately it is not necessary to look far to find buildings which are setting new standards for energy saving and the use of renewable energy sources. Take Sainsbury’s recently opened Millennium Store in Greenwich, which seems to make use of ‘free’ energy in almost all its forms, including geothermal cooling, natural ventilation and lighting, solar and wind power.

The Greenwich store’s is a good illustration of how a building’s energy consumption can be minimised without compromising occupant comfort. The same is true of Manchester’s recently rebuilt Contact Theatre, probably the only theatre in a UK city that is naturally ventilated. What this and the Sainsbury’s site also show is that natural ventilation is not a technique with restricted application, suitable for just a few building types – such as college libraries and the odd office block.

To be effective, energy saving technology must of course be correctly applied. The recently completed CHP scheme at the University of East Anglia provides an object lesson in how this should be done. Part of the scheme involved upgrading all of the site’s heating plant rooms in order that the CHP plant could operate at maximum efficiency. Often, CHP units are treated as though they were like boilers and their potential is thus not properly exploited.

Even when a building has a high cooling load it is still possible, through good design, to avoid excessive energy use - as Electronic Arts’ new UK headquarters is aiming to prove. Though air conditioned and packed with IT equipment, the building is expected to achieve ‘good practice’ energy usage levels. Various features will combine to reduce consumption – including a displacement ventilation system and night cooling using outside air.

One place that not only practises energy efficiency but preaches it as well, is that ‘theme park’ of sustainable living, the Earth Centre near Doncaster. A labyrinth cooling system is among its energy saving features, which will soon also include Europe’s largest photovoltaic canopy.

All the above sites are described in this issue of ‘IQ’. At each one, Trend intelligent building controls play a key energy saving role. In all types of non-domestic building, intelligent control is essential if energy efficiency is to be maximised; this applies whether the design of the HVAC and other services is conventional or innovative, simple or complex.

It is true that energy efficient building design may involve higher initial investment. It should be remembered, however, that well over half the total cost of building ownership is generally incurred after acquisition. A much more sobering thought is that without greater emphasis on energy saving and sustainable development in all its other forms, the world of the new millennium could be a very grim place indeed.

Martin Holt