The Active Classroom
The Active Classroom is the latest building demonstration project from SPECIFIC – an innovation and knowledge centre led by Swansea University with Tata Steel, NSG and Akzo Nobel as the main industrial partners.
The Active Classroom is powered by the sun and demonstrates the latest in generate, store and release technologies. Housing two classroom spaces, the performance of the building is carefully monitored to evaluate the technology used before its potential wider use in the construction industry.
Premier Construction recently sat down with Joanna Clarke, who in her role as Building Integration Manager for Specific oversaw the design and project management of the Active Classroom
How did the Active Classroom first come about?
“We’re a national innovation centre and we’re investigating the concept of turning buildings into power stations by using solar energy to functionalise building envelopes. It’s a generate, store and release concept. You generate heat and electricity on the building envelope, store that energy in either battery storage or thermal stores and then use that energy within the building. The purpose is to make buildings energy positive, so that they contribute to the amount of energy available to the community over an annual cycle.
“Swansea University hosted the British Science Festival in September 2016 and we decided to build a building to showcase the concept and demonstrate the technology on a building at the science festival, to engage and inform attendees to the festival. We came up with the idea in January 2016 and then proceeded to design it and work with contractors to get it built ready for September. It was a very fast programme.”
One of the most significant aspects of the build was the use of interlocking steel panels. Can you tell us more about that?
“One of the other purposes of SPECIFIC is to work with UK companies to help them develop new products. This particular form of construction had been flagged up by Tata through their innovation portal. It was by a UK company called Matrix Structures and involved interlocking steel frame panels that were manufactured offsite. They were then brought to the site as panels and erected into a building. We needed no additional structure, no steel supports. The panels form the structures themselves and the panels all interlock using a single tool.
“It was a new system that hadn’t been used before on a building of this scale. Matrix Structures had never constructed a pitched roof, for example, or worked with any other main contractors. They were very new to construction so as you can imagine it would be quite difficult for constructors to take a risk with such an innovative system. We decided to take the risk of using them to build The Active Classroom.”
And the roof was also something that hadn’t been done before?
“We put a brand new, building integrated photovoltaic roof on the building that is manufactured by a company spun out of Swansea University and Tata called BIPVco. This was also their first roof installation of this scale. There were a lot of firsts on the project.
“We then worked with a local solar panel installer on the whole battery system, connecting the photovoltaic roof to the batteries. We used batteries new to the UK – Aquion’s Hybrid Ion, which offer a non-combustible storage system at large scale and we sized the batteries based on having the ability to run the building for at least two days without any solar energy or additional power.”
How has the building been working so far?
“It’s been working very successfully. At present the building presents at most a flat demand to the grid of less than a kilowatt, with any spikes in demand being provided by the batteries. Once we have a grid connection, we will be able to demonstrate how energy positive buildings can help alleviate stress on the grid and potentially earn money.
“We’ve done some initial calculations and we estimate that if we had that grid connection we would have generated at least 11/2 times the amount of energy that we’ve consumed in the building over a year, meaning it is genuinely energy positive over the annual cycle.”
A follow up to the Active Classroom, the Active Office, is currently in development and will be finished by the end of May. To find out more, please visit www.specific.eu.com.