EcoBuild 2016: The good, the smart and the future

(Written by Clare Calder)

The EcoBuild Conference is now more than a decade old. Each year it brings together thousands of professionals looking to learn, network and be inspired.

There were 3 distinct themes for this year’s conference to reflect growth in Homes, Architecture & Next Generation. I attended Homes, keen to learn about and discuss good housing and smart buildings. People and energy were the key themes that emerged from the day.

The general consensus from the first panel was that good housing means putting people first. A home is where people want to live and having what they need to live. However, in recent years it has become more about the number of homes rather than the standard and affordability of them. In order to correct this the focus needs to become about the bigger picture, about collaboration and having the political will to find the solution.

EcoBuildPic1There was much excitement about possibilities for the homes and buildings of the future. Joanna Morgan from SPECIFIC – an ‘academic and industrial consortium’ which is headed up by Swansea University, says our joint future ambition should be to have buildings that can create their own power. By creating these ‘power stations’, it ‘gives the buildings a place in the new energy sector’. We have to focus on the look of dynamic technology and create storage which is both local and inter-seasonal in order to achieve this. Morgan said it is important to continue innovating rather than just changing systems to meet standards. She stressed that new energy systems should not just be about saving money, but also about eliminating fuel poverty.

Mark Wray from Innovate UK explored the potential for the ‘added extras’ in domestic energy storage. These ranged from the more practical (and energy saving) suggestion of a device which tells the user how much energy is/has being used when switching something on/off to the ‘iKettle’ app from which you could start boiling your ‘smart kettle’ and it would tell you when it has boiled and even welcome you home. Check out Innovate UK here.

Vanti’s CEO Mike Brooman says “in the process of creating and running a building, continuous optimisation has the greatest impact”. He suggested that we have already begun moving from the ‘dumb’ building (which has ‘rules-based behaviour’ and standalone systems) to the ‘smart’ (basic system integration that is separate from the user) and the next step is creating ‘intelligent buildings’. He says to become intelligent we must continually work towards creating a building that can operate by itself. To do this we need to collect existing data to create the adaptable and self optimising technology that is necessary.EcoBuildPic2

Brooman stressed (as had others throughout the day) that people are the most important element of any building. He said there was no point in just creating a smart building, you have to keep in mind what the building will be used for and the end users must be kept at the centre of the process. Read more about Vanti.

The message I take away is that people should come first. Whether from a more practical perspective in terms of having a decent standard of living, to the homes and buildings of the future that will see intelligent, self optimising energy systems, they must be built with the user in mind.

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