David Richardson is a professional member of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. He has worked in London’s construction industry for five years before joining the family firm Richardsons, in Gibraltar in 2009 where he specialises in Building Surveying and Project Management services. Build Gibraltar interviewed David on the subject of sustainability and energy conservation in the built environment.
IN RELATION TO THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT AND THE CONSTRUCTION INDUSTRY IN GIBRALTAR, WHAT DOES SUSTAINABILITY MEAN TO YOU?
For me sustainability is the responsible management of resources. In the long term this has far reaching environmental, economic and social challenges that entail among other factors local and international laws, urban planning and individual lifestyles.
In relation to the built environment the green agenda focuses on making savings to our energy bills.
In relation to the construction industry, life cycle energy savings for the end users is important. However, sustainability focuses on the choice and source of building materials, building techniques and technologies used in order to minimise the carbon footprint and overall embedded energy - in other words, minimise the amount of energy and Carbon Dioxide (CO?) emissions required for the entire construction project.
WHAT ARE YOUR VIEWS ON RENEWABLE ENERGY AND ENERGY EFFICIENCY?
Renewable energy or electricity generated from renewable sources such as sunlight, wind or wave power tick the sustainable box, however much of the available technology is expensive and less reliable when compared to electricity generated by fossil fuels. Today’s solar panels and wind turbines also take up a lot of space and would generally need to form part of large scale projects in order to be feasible. This means financing such projects can only be undertaken by Governments or by large commercial ventures.
On the other hand, energy efficient technologies are more accessible to the wider public but it will require a collective public effort if we are to achieve a notable reduction in the energy consumptions of our buildings. I would say that, over the past decade Gibraltar has, as much of the developed world, substantially increased its energy consumption with the advent of power hungry electronic goods and the increased demand for air conditioned commercial space.
WHAT TECHNOLOGIES EXIST AND HOW CAN THESE BE APPLIED TO THE EXISTING BUILT ENVIRONMENT AND NEW BUILDINGS IN GIBRALTAR?
The fundamental key in achieving a cost effective reduction in the energy consumption of a new or existing building is a tailored design or mix of technologies that takes into consideration the building’s size, its orientation, the materials it is made of and its existing infrastructure. Some of the technologies available today are described below.
Photovoltaic Solar Panels
PV panels generate clean electricity from the sun without producing any further CO? emissions. The panels can be fitted on roof tops so that they are out of sight. However, the technology used in today’s PV panels is still in its infancy. For example - in today’s market the most efficient panel that converts light into electricity is about 40% efficient (40% of the energy is converted into electricity while the rest is reflected or lost as heat) however this type of cell is exceptionally expensive and is generally only used in the aerospace industry. The commercially available panels designed for home use typically operate at a discouraging rate of 11% to 16% efficiency. To further dampen the promises of this technology, PV panels are less efficient when they are dirty and when they overheat. For example, panel temperatures in the summer can easily reach 50°C resulting in a 12% reduction in normal output.
Solar Water Heating
Solar water heating drastically reduces the energy consumption required by your gas or electric water boiler. They are generally low maintenance and, when compared to a domestic electric immersion heater, you can expect considerable savings of about 510kg of Carbon Dioxide emission per year.
A standard domestic installation can cost between £1200 and £5000 and you can expect savings of approximately £300 per year for a family of four, giving a payback period of about 4 years at best.
Customised Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) Systems
The right HVAC system for your building is perhaps the single most important factor in keeping your energy bills low. The system is also responsible for internal air quality and temperature. In Gibraltar we typically use air conditioning systems to control the internal environment. However, there are other smart ways to effectively cool the building thereby reducing the running time of your AC units. For example, a new building can be designed with intelligent monitoring systems, automated solar shading and natural ventilation to keep the structure cool in summer.
Low Energy and Intelligent Lighting
These technologies can be of particular benefit to commercial buildings. The light fittings include a photocell calibrated to detect light and will only switch on when the internal space is dark enough. The system can also include timers and movement sensors that switch off the lights after working hours or when there is no movement in the room for a given period of time. The latest low energy light bulb technology in today’s market is LED lighting. This lighting is very cheap to run and will last many times longer than your standard bulb. Over the past two years LED lighting products have finally improved the light quality to match the warm white colour/ temperature of the standard incandescent bulb to the point where the light quality is virtually indistinguishable. The new LED lighting products also now boast zero ‘warm up time’ and, as the cost of these bulbs continue to fall, the payback period is further reduced.
ARE GIBRALTAR BUYERS AWARE/INTERESTED IN ENERGY EFFICIENCY IN THE BUILDINGS THEY PURCHASE?
Yes. Since the introduction of Europe’s Energy Performance of Buildings Directive, Gibraltar has implemented legislation that requires producing an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) upon construction, sale or rental of any property. The EPC provides the purchaser an energy rating on a scale from A to G that will help gauge the long term running costs of a building. The better the energy rating, the lower the running costs and this information is valuable to a potential purchaser who want to compare two or three properties they may be interested in buying.
THERE HAS BEEN A LOT OF TALK ABOUT GREEN ENERGY (ENERGY THAT CAN BE EXTRACTED, GENERATED, AND/OR CONSUMED WITHOUT ANY SIGNIFICANT NEGATIVE IMPACT TO THE ENVIRONMENT) A COMBINATION OF SUSTAINABLE CONSTRUCTION, EFFICIENT SOLAR PANELS, BETTER BATTERY STORAGE AND LOW ENERGY ELECTRICAL HOME APPLIANCES AND LIGHTING MEANS THAT THE REALITY OF A VIRTUALLY SELF-SUFFICIENT, NEW BUILD RESIDENTIAL DWELLING IS NO LONGER AN UNATTAINABLE DREAM IN GIBRALTAR BUT WE SELDOM SEE EVIDENCE OF GREEN ENERGY USED IN GIBRALTAR'S BUILDINGS. HOW CAN THIS BE CHANGED? WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE LEGISLATION/INCENTIVES TO BUILD USING SUSTAINABLE ENERGY?
Yes, there are various green energy technologies out there that have been used successfully. Indeed many of the world’s most famous architects are today designing and building tomorrow’s eco city projects. I believe the reason we seldom see investment in green energy in Gibraltar is because of long pay back periods and client scepticism to try something new.
With regards to legislation and incentives, yes. Government incentives are in my opinion the best way for current sustainable technologies to become affordable and mainstream in our community. By the same token new Government incentives could be modelled in such a way that the domestic energy savings result in lower power demands and thereby improvements in local air quality. The importance of improving our local air quality to meet the targets set by the European Commission cannot be understated, for example the UK faces fines of up to £300m a year and embarrassing court appearances after the European commission launched legal proceedings against it for failing to reduce “excessive” levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) air pollution from traffic, despite 15 years of warnings and several extensions and postponements granted to the government.
Positive steps have been taken by the Ministry for the Environment as set out in the Environmental Action & Management Plan 2013 to improve air quality in Gibraltar. However, the complexity of this task should not be underestimated. The built environment does play an important part but there are many other variables that have a greater negative effect on air quality in Gibraltar and to promote the use of renewable energy sources., the main one being the high density of motor vehicles in the city.
Renewable technologies are essential to sustainable energy, contributing to energy security - what technologies are currently being employed in Gibraltar to ensure energy security, and what technologies are we likely to see in the near future?
Energy production in Gibraltar is generated from fossil fuels. Currently by Diesel generators and soon by Natural Gas engines and Duel Fuel (Diesel and Natural Gas) engines. Last year in May 2016 Chief Minister, Fabian Picardo and Dr John Cortes, Minister for Education, Heritage, the Environment and Climate Chang opened the Gibraltar Wave Farm. A pilot scheme with ambitious future expansion capabilities. To my knowledge the first time we are seeing the electricity grid fed by renewable energy, a significant milestone and achievement in Gibraltar’s journey toward a more sustainable future.Energy production in Gibraltar is generated from fossil fuels and this is likely to remain unchanged. The key to a sustainable future for Gibraltar’s energy consumption lies in reducing power consumption and by supporting current energy production with a few medium scale renewable technologies.
The key to a sustainable future for Gibraltar’s energy consumption lies in reducing power consumption and by supporting current energy production with a few medium scale renewable technologies such as the Wave Farm.
With regards to the built environment I hope to see the evolution of solar technology result in more efficient and cheaper solar panels. Significant advances in solar technology are being made, for example, Panasonic, Japan’s electronics giant announced a new commercially sized solar module prototype designed to be scaled into volume production. These new generation panels can achieve a fairly high solar conversion efficiency of 23.8%. Considering the panels are designed for large scale production to make them affordable one can deduce that it won’t be too long before small to medium scale PV arrays on rooftops become economically viable investments.
Another interesting technology developed by Tesla Motors is a product called PowerWall. A wall mounted home battery with a 6.4 kWh energy storage capacity sufficient to power most homes during the evening using electricity generated by solar panels during the day. Multiple batteries may be installed together for homes with greater energy needs.Tesla have also developed solar roof tile product where the photovoltaic panel is concealed within a traditional looking roof tile made with tempered glass. The technological breakthrough here is that ‘invisible’ PV proposals of this type will be welcomed by Architect’s and Town Planners who in Gibraltar are faced with the challenging task of meeting our society’s growing needs while at the same time protecting the look and feel of Gibraltar’s built environment and its heritage.
A combination of sustainable construction, efficient solar panels, better battery storage and low energy electrical home appliances and lighting means that the reality of a virtually self-sufficient, new build residential dwelling is no longer an unattainable dream.
How does the cost-benefit of sustainable energy compare with traditional energy, and how can Gibraltar as a whole benefit for individual choices?
If a person or company were to exploit solar, wind or wave power the cost benefit would be free energy, once investment costs have been covered. The way to do this is by supplying your electricity to the grid and selling the power you generate. In theory this makes perfect sense, but investors are likely to encounter planning or public concerns and will need to consider high land values and upgrades to the existing electricity grid before such a scheme will be deemed feasible.
Today fossil fuels are very cheap, therefore recent advances in technology that favour sustainable products are somewhat under-utilised when calculating cost comparisons and payback periods. The results of feasibility studies into the use of sustainable technologies in residential properties typically conclude that modifying or upgrading a single dwelling is expensive, disruptive and payback periods are still unattractive. However in the refurbishment and new-build construction markets it is starting to make financial sense to utilise some green technologies.
As regards changing social behaviours to reduce energy consumption there is a potential to save energy, but the question of how to positively influence individual choices and habits on issues such as recycling, energy conservation and the likes remains unanswered. Is our community prepared to actively save energy by consciously making changes to their daily lives? Is the general public ready swap their beloved motor cycle or car for an electric or hybrid vehicle? For some people yes, but, for most the answer is still no. Nevertheless I do believe that the time where everybody lines up to buy into ground breaking energy saving products is finally on the horizon.