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Building integrated solar panels help power new office block

Posted by Tasha Kosviner on 8 November 2013 at 8:53 am

A new office block built to exacting environmental standards aims to improve the productivity of its tenants by up to 18 per cent. 

The Future Business Centre in Cambridge is a 35,000sq.ft. facility intended to provide a mix of office and workshop units and hot desk facilities for up to 125 social and environmental start-ups and 50 existing businesses.

And with Cambridge Cleantech – a membership group for local environmental businesses – the first guaranteed tenant, the centre’s focus on environmental causes in business extends to the very fabric of the building itself. 

“Well we couldn’t very well be a CleanTech hub without trying to save energy ourselves,” says the voice at the end of the phone when I call. 

Incorporating solar pv, solar thermal, LED lighting, greywater harvesting and zoned smart metres in every unit, the building is also host to one of the early building-integrated photovoltaic (BIPV) products on the market – electricity generating glazing. 

The glazing, produced by Polysolar, performs all the functions of glass – weatherproofing, temperature control, sound protection, structural design and light control – whilst also generating power for the building. The glazing covers a four-storey stairwell, with 18sq.m. of solar pv glazing. A further 50 square metre wall is covered by Polysolar’s rainscreen cladding – a non-transparant, insulation backed solar pv cladding that is bonded directly onto the side of a building in place of a brick façade, for example.

It is this method of incorporating a building’s power source into its very fabric that defines BIPV – and make Polysolar very optimistic about the future. 

Having already installed their glazing at London’s Barbican Centre and with a new solar pv greenhouse on the market plus balconies, carports and roof panels available, Polysolar has already impressed the likes of the Prince of Wales, Alan Titchmarsh and Dragon’s Den’s Deborah Meedon. 

In the case of the Future Business Centre, the Polysolar products will have a peak wattage of 4.8kw, generating around 4000 kWh of electricity per year. 

In addition, the centre will draw an estimated 15-20 per cent of its power from approximately 200m2 of roof-mounted solar PV. It is predicted that combined with the Polysolar products, the building will generate between 8 and 10.22kWh/m2 of electricty, saving almost 13 tonnes of CO2 annually - 23 per cent of the buildings total.

Hot water will come from solar thermal panels while there will be LED or low energy lighting and a number of electric car charging points (although centre users will be encouraged to arrive by bike and train rather than car.)

The installation of smart meters in every unit will give each tenant the power to monitor their own energy supply, while individualised bills will incentivise them to minimise their own energy consumption. 

The building is also a naturally ventilated, concrete-framed construction, with high thermal mass, that negates the need for energy intensive air conditioning systems.

The centre has come to fruition partly due to a £3.6m grant from the European Regional Development Fund which places an emphasis on low carbon economic growth. 

In 2011, a report by the United Nations Environment Programme found that in an office environment, good air quality, natural ventilation and localised heat control increased productivity by up to 18 per cent. 

More information

YouGen guide to solar electricity

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