Energy, the search for the right temperature in offices against price increases

Energy, the search for the right temperature in offices against price increases


Most countries experienced a summer of record heatwaves. The average temperature in Europe was the highest ever recorded, with a margin of 0.4 degrees compared to 2021, as reported by the European climate observation service Copernicus. In mid-July, temperatures in the UK exceeded 40 degrees for the first time in history. Compared to other European nations, however, the UK faces a historic inability to cope with high temperatures. Most buildings are designed to retain heat, and only 5 percent of homes have some form of air conditioning. It is therefore not surprising that, during the summer heatwaves, workers poured into offices to escape the heat by abandoning smart working.

Now, however, the tendency of workers to return is likely to return. in the office of his own volition to continue, as the scorching summer was followed by a global energy crisis that sent energy prices skyrocketing. Those who work from home will probably want to take advantage of guaranteed heating in their workplace. In the UK, where energy prices are also higher than in similar economies like France and Italy, 14 per cent of Brits plan to spend more time in the office to reduce their bills, a percentage that rises almost 25 per cent of workers aged between 18 and 24. In this scenario, buildings that can retain heat can be an advantage, at least until the heat returns next year.

If air conditioning is not convenient

"Even with a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions, high temperature events will occur and the UK will have to adapt," says Stephen Belcher. chief scientist of the Met Office. To cope with this situation, commercial property owners and architects must find sustainable ways to keep buildings at the right temperature, while companies strive to mitigate the impact of extreme weather conditions on their employees.

Of course, the simplest solution would be to install air conditioning. But more air conditioners equates to an increase in energy consumption and greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere, which in turn cause temperatures to rise. By the end of the century, air conditioning could cover 15 per cent of the UK's energy consumption during the summer. The cooling of office buildings is by far the biggest voice in energy consumption. According to UK government figures, the office sector is responsible for 51 per cent of non-domestic energy consumption for cooling and humidification, more than any other sector.

One possible solution would be to replace the office sector. obsession with air conditioning with natural ventilation. Many workplaces in the UK are hermetically sealed, and window insertion is an often overlooked route to more comfortable environments. The American design studio Gensler is working to make 90 Long Acre in Covent Garden in London, a building designed by modernist architect Richard Seifert, more futuristic, by equipping it with opening windows that will allow 60 percent of the offices to be naturally ventilated. Naturally ventilated offices can cut energy consumption in half compared to air-conditioned buildings and lead to savings of 15 percent on capital costs and 75 percent on maintenance costs.

Buildings as fresh as churches

The so-called passive cooling, which aims to reduce heat build-up and increase heat loss, is considered the main method for adapting to climate change in a sustainable way. "It means cooling a place overnight and storing these cooler temperatures in the structure - explains Andrew Lerpiniere, director of the London studio Webb Yates Engineers -. Buildings made of heavy materials and with little direct sunlight, such as churches, are the best. example for passively obtaining comfortable conditions. Stone stores the cooling that is radiated from its surface when the outside air heats up over the course of the day. "

In winter, dense materials retain heat and temperatures do not drop as much as the outside air. Heating may be needed, but as Lerpiniere points out we are witnessing the transition from gas boilers to electric heat pumps, the technology of which is making rapid progress.

Achieving the effect of a church in a building commercial remains, however, a monumental challenge. Lerpiniere believes that passive cooling of office buildings dating from the late 1980s or early 1990s is nearly impossible, while newer constructions have a much wider margin for innovation and would be able to withstand future waves of heat. The Arbor office complex in Native Land, London, has a smart facade with sun blinds, which automatically tilt to reduce solar glare, reducing the need for air conditioning. The BedZED complex in Mitcham, south of the English capital, houses a mix of offices, homes, a college and community facilities and is topped with multicolored wind towers for passive ventilation, which allow fresh air to be brought into homes, while the stale air passes through a heat exchanger and transfers the heat to the incoming fresh air.

Inspirations from the past

Although they may seem like highly technological solutions, wind towers ( or bagdir in Arabic) have been used to cool buildings in Iran and the Middle East region for centuries. The city of Yazd, in central Iran, has hundreds of these four- or eight-sided towers, earning the nickname "city of wind towers". To amplify the cooling effect, bagdir are often built together with qanat, underground passages that transfer water from a canal to the surface. The air is drawn down into the qanat where it meets the earth and cold water; the cooled air is then pushed up through the hundred tower to increase the airflow into the building.

Similar to the ancient system of qanat and bagdir, Deloitte's headquarters in Amsterdam The Edge, completed in 2014, it requires a minimal amount of heating and cooling due to the accumulation of thermal energy in the aquifer. A network of small cables carries water to and from the building's underground storage for heating and cooling. During the summer months, the building pumps hot water to a depth of more than 120 meters, where it remains isolated until winter, and is then used for heating.

"Thanks to this, as well as to the triple glazed windows, insulation and atria for natural air flow, we were able to keep the internal air temperature at 23 or 24 degrees, which for us is a sustainable and normal level ", explains Coen van Oostrum, founder and CEO of Edge, a sustainable real estate development company.

The use of algorithms to optimize the heating and cooling of a building is a fundamental tool for a generation of resilient and sustainable commercial construction. The Edge and Southworks, an office complex near London, are examples of buildings that use sensor technology to understand how people move around the building. "We can let unused rooms or even entire floors get warmer in the summer, thus contributing significantly to our sustainability ambitions; after all, it's a shame to keep an unused room cool," explains van Oostrum.

Between old and new

Companies can follow simple rules: reduce the use of fans, for example, if a floor has been empty for a long time and it is afternoon, or use optimization and forecasting algorithms, explains Miloš Halečka, director of innovation at MiddleCap, which is building real estate in Southworks. "This combination of centuries-old knowledge and modern technology is revolutionary in the way we design, build and manage our offices."

More UK heatwaves are expected next year. "All buildings currently under development should have passive design features such as natural ventilation, natural daylight combined with solar shading, and water systems for evaporative cooling. However, climate change is proving to be so extreme. that passive design alone will not be able to provide all the solutions ", continues Halečka. Adapting to rising temperatures will require a multidisciplinary approach that combines retrofitting old buildings, investment in passive design for new ones, and worker support measures. Lerpiniere, however, is convinced that there will always be limits to what is possible from an engineering point of view. “Trying to design all buildings to withstand the heat peaks, which could only represent 5 percent of the year, would be exaggerated,” he explains. Personally, I am in favor of closing offices in the peak of summer as they do in France or Italy. ”

This article originally appeared on UK.

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