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Making architecture more sustainable is an important part of fighting climate change – check out how new tech is helping us tackle this challenge

Buildings are a massive drain on energy and resources.

In fact, the real estate sector is responsible for more than 20% of carbon emissions globally. This isn’t surprising given that Britons spend 80% of their time in buildings (you can’t blame them with weather like that), using heating, lights and energy-gobbling appliances. At the same time, building practices haven’t changed significantly in the last 50 years, leading to ever-rising CO2 emissions and the waste of raw materials. Politicians have identified this as a major issue. The UK Prime Minister Theresa May, for example, recently unveiled her plans to halve building energy usage by 2030 by committing to new technologies and modern construction practices.

How can we reduce our energy consumption, whilst making sure that the power we do consume in buildings, new and old alike, is clean? Here are three technologies that are already making waves…

Developing a sixth sense for wasted energy

Heating, air conditioning (AC) systems and lighting account for most of a building’s energy use. IoT technology can now cut those loses with the help of sensors. The Edge, often described as the greenest building in the world, for example, has 28,000 sensors constantly collecting data on everything happening both inside and outside the building. Motion sensors detect when a room is empty and automatically shut off the lights – no need for old “turn off the lights” signs – and heat sensors adjust the AC to account for the warmth of bodies in a space. When taken together, these marginal gains create huge savings.

Building ⟶ vehicle ⟶ building

In the future your car could help manage the energy use of your house. How? A new technology called “vehicle to building” is being developed by Hitachi Europe, Mitsubishi Motors and ENGIE, that will allow electric vehicles to act as a means of energy storage for a building supplied with renewable power. The charger, the first of its kind, doesn’t only direct energy from the building to charge the car, it can also discharge the energy back into the building. This means that excess energy created at times of peak generation can be stored in the car’s battery and fed back into the building when demand increases, mitigating the issue of renewable intermittency.

3D printing robots

Reducing the energy required to run a building is one challenge; reducing the energy needed to construct one is another. Building construction is a time-consuming, expensive and energy-intensive process. However, the integration of automation into the construction industry has the potential to make this a thing of the past – enter 3D printing. A Ukrainian start up, for example, has demonstrated how 3D printing robots can print the walls, roof and floor of its small houses in just eight hours. This process uses considerably less energy, reducing carbon emissions, and the houses themselves are sustainable, powered by solar energy which is stored in a battery. Whilst technology such as this is still in its early stages, the possibilities are huge if it can be scaled up. Dubai has already outlined its ambitions, announcing that 25% of its new buildings will be constructed using 3D printers by 2025.

Waste not, want not

Energy efficiency in buildings may not be at the top of the news agenda every day, but it is an important issue in the energy transition. After all, we spend most of our time in these energy guzzling structures and with the growing global population, there is a pressing need for more buildings and energy to power them. So let’s start getting it right now and ensure we are embracing the opportunities offered by smart tech to revolutionise how buildings operate.

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