|Norwich build its future|
Thomas Paine Study Centre, NORWICH, UK
Consistency and a long-range perspective are the key words in the environmental work of the University of East Anglia. This is where tomorrow’s environmental experts are being trained, and it is already 15 years since the University’s first energy-efficient building was completed.
“If students fall asleep during lectures in this building, it’s certainly not because of a stuffy atmosphere.”
Martyn Newton, Sustainability Manager of the University of East Anglia (UEA) in Norwich, is clearly proud of the indoor climate at the recently opened Thomas Paine Study Centre. And he has every reason to be. The building is the latest in a series of low-energy buildings on the university’s 230 Ha campus. The University is one of the world’s leading universities in environmental science and climate research, and understood, early on, that its credibility would increase if it practised what it preached.
“Any institution that has made such important contributions to getting the world to understand climate change ought to make sure that it’s a shining example in the environmental area,” says Roger Bond, Director of Estates and Buildings.
That’s why the university’s first low-energy structure, the Elizabeth Fry Building, was completed back in 1995. The Thomas Paine Study Centre is the sixth low-energy building.
In recent years, the University has also prepared a most ambitious plan to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions. This plan contains everything from requirements for new buildings to raising the energy efficiency of older buildings, the development of district heating (still less common in the UK than in many other countries), and England’s first biomass gasifier for combined heat and power which will be opened in a few month’s time. The University’s goals are ambitious. By 2020, its carbon dioxide emissions should be reduced by 60%, compared to its already low level in 2005.
The Thomas Paine Study Centre houses the University’s Business School. When we visited, the building had been officially opened only a few weeks earlier, and the term had not yet begun.
In a meeting room in the still barely occupied building, we met Jonathan Stanley, one of the students in the MBA programme in Strategic Carbon Management, which is not only a first for the UEA, but also the first such programme in the world.
Jonathan is a British student; however, the course attracts students from a host of countries, ranging from India, China and Japan to Spain and France. And at 31, Jonathan is one of the younger students in the programme.
“I would rather be part of the solution than part of the problem,” he declares, as he talks about climate change and why he chose this programme.
Jonathan started his career as a purchaser for the British retail chain Sainsbury’s, and then continued at a restaurant company, which he urged to improve its record in the area of sustainability. When his efforts failed, he realised that he needed to acquire more knowledge.
“I applied to this programme because I wanted to see whether there could be a combination of a business perspective and a sustainability perspective. So far, I feel it is possible. Not least because I’ve learned models such as green procurement, a spending and investment model that takes into consideration criteria beyond price and quality.”
The Thomas Paine Study Centre, like the other energy-efficient buildings on campus, is a well-insulated, sealed building with triple-pane windows. Like the others, it has been designed with the TermoDeck energy efficient climate system. “This technology is originally Swedish, but has been developed further at the university,” Martyn Newton explains.
“TermoDeck works with the concrete in the building floorplanks, and utilises the heating capacity in an efficient manner. The idea is based on the principle of thermal effusivity, which basically holds that a building with a large physical mass stores heat by day and releases it by night. In this way, the temperature is evened out and variations during a 24-hour period are delayed. This makes the premises somewhat cooler during the day, and a little warmer at night.”
With the TermoDeck system, all air passes through a labyrinthine system in the concrete floor slab before it enters the room. In this way, the indoor temperature of the ceiling and floor remains stable and comfortable for everyone on the premises. Heating, cooling and ventilation are integrated, and the air blown in will be silent and free of draughts. The system reduces the need for radiators, cooling machines and sound dampers.
“The building also has light detectors that turn off the lights as soon as the room becomes empty, and the movement detectors shut off the ventilation when no one remains in the room. However, you can still open the windows,” says Martyn Newton.
“The Elizabeth Fry Building was the first building of its kind in England without any radiators,” he explains. ”And even though this is a 3,200 m2 building, the boiler is no larger than one you would find in a private home.”
Thanks to TermoDeck technology, the building has an annual heating energy consumption of only 25–35 kWh/m2 a year, compared to the normal annual standard for Great Britain of 120–140 kWh/m2. The values only slightly exceed the passive house standard, and the Elizabeth Fry Building was completed in 1995.
From the start, Martyn Newton and his colleagues were careful to measure how the building reacted during various seasons and at various times of day. This provided evidence that helped to improve later buildings.
“Today we can even predict how a building will react in the future. And we will use the knowledge we derive from the new buildings when we renovate the university’s brutalistic concrete buildings from the 1960s.”
Estates and Buildings Director Roger Bond asserts that the UEA has made great progress, but that, in the future, it should expand the involvement of students in energy saving even more. Already, a ‘switch-off’ campaign started by UEA student Eco-Power Rangers has spread to other UK universities. There are now plans to motivate the students and staff by giving the money saved by their energy efficiency to their department.
There is also a desire to start more cooperative projects of the type the university has with West Suffolk College, which trains students for careers in the construction industry. Together, they’ve even lobbied the British government. ”This is a very fruitful cooperation indeed,” says Dr Bruce Tofield – UEA, Build with CaRe Work Package 4 leader.
But a part of the future is already present on campus. At the edge of a parking lot, the university has recently built the first combined heat and power plant in the UK that’s powered by biogas from gasified wood chips. The University already generates 60% of its electricity on site, and, once the biomass plant begins full-scale operation, that figure will rise to 90%. But Martyn Newton can see futher benefits:
“Gasifying wood chips creates biochar as a by-product, and there are researchers at UEA who are looking into the benefits that this biochar can provide in improving soils where it will last for hundreds of years and sequester the carbon the growing trees have captured from the atmosphere.”