The 'Total Performance' of Low Carbon Buildings in China and the UK ('TOP')

Lead Research Organisation: University College London
Department Name: Bartlett Sch of Env, Energy & Resources

Abstract

Meeting pressing carbon emission reduction targets successfully will require a major shift in the performance of buildings. The complexity of the building stock, the importance of buildings in people's lives, and the wide spectrum of agents responsible all make buildings an important area of 'policy resistance'. Policies may fail to achieve their intended objective, or even worsen desired outcomes, because of limitations in our understanding of the building stock as a dynamically complex system. This limitation can lead to 'unintended consequences' across a range of outcomes.

The concept of the 'performance gap' with regards to the energy performance of buildings is now well established and useful work to begin to understand this challenging issue has been undertaken. However, potential unintended consequences related to the inter-linked issues of energy/Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ) present an even greater and more complex challenge - a challenge that is gaining increasing importance in the UK and China. There are exciting opportunities to address this issue of 'total performance' in order to reduce the energy demand and carbon emissions of buildings whilst safeguarding productivity and health.

Our work will begin by examining the contrasting context within which buildings have been designed and constructed and within which they are used and operated internationally. We will address the policies and regulatory regimes that relate to energy/IEQ but also the assessment techniques used and the ways that buildings are utilised.

We will then build on this analysis by undertaking an initial monitoring campaign in both countries to allow comparisons between the performance of the same types of building in the two different contexts. We will evaluate how energy/IEQ performance varies between building type and country. This work will enable the assembly of a unique database relating to the interlinked performance gaps. This initial monitoring work will also allow us to identify the most suitable buildings for the next stage of the work that will integrate monitoring and modelling approaches. This phase of the work will develop semi-automated building assessment methods, technologies and tools to enable rapid characterisation of probable pathologies to determine the most cost-effective route to remedy the underlying root causes of energy/IEQ underperformance.

Energy/IEQ issues do not form a closed system however. In the development of relevant policies and regulations, it is vital to consider the wider system and we propose a second stream of work to address this. The team at UCL has undertaken pilot work within the housing sector as part of the EPSRC funded Platform Grant ('The unintended consequences of decarbonising the built environment'). We successfully employed a participatory system dynamics approach with a team of over 50 stakeholders and we will extend that work here to other building typologies. Such an approach can help support decision-making in complex systems, addressing challenges central to the TOP work.

The proposed work is tremendously challenging and exciting. If successful it will lead the way in understanding and improving the total performance of low carbon buildings and help to develop relevant effective policies and regulations in the transition towards future Low Carbon Cities.

Tsinghua and UCL have the suitable complementary world-leading expertise to undertake this work and form a long-term 'best with best' academic collaboration. The Bartlett at UCL is rated first in terms of research 'power' and environment in the UK; the Tsinghua University School of Architecture was ranked first in China in the National Assessment on Architecture in 2003, 2008, and 2011. The groups in both countries have extensive stakeholder networks and the outputs of the project will thus be communicated widely and appropriately.

Planned Impact

The beneficiaries of our research outcomes include UK and Chinese policy makers and regulatory agencies, international policy organisations, the commercial private sector and UK/China industry, and local government. The ultimate beneficiaries of the research will be the general population due to reduced carbon emissions and improved buildings supported by the introduction of appropriate policies. Fuller details of the beneficiaries and associated pathways to impacts are provided in the 'Pathways to Impact' section. We devote specific Investigator and RA resource and a dedicated work package to our impact activities.

Understanding integrated energy / IEQ 'total performance' poses a critical and urgent challenge in both the UK and China. A high performing built environment is essential for (i) reducing carbon emissions (ii) enabling energy affordability and security (iii) the health and wellbeing of the population. Additionally, the development of competitive new industries and products is essential to the economic success of the UK and China. Energy efficiency technologies and industries offer a double benefit because they enable domestic industries to perform more efficiently and provide the basis for new exports. However, new green industries will only flourish if data and evidence clearly demonstrate their performance. Despite its importance there remains very little activity measuring integrated building energy and IEQ building performance, and no systematic way of establishing whether building systems are performing as designed.

The TOP project is thus essential in order to provide a better understanding of why buildings underperform. Insights gained during the project outcomes will then inform government policies and building regulations in both countries. The TOP project will thus have great impact by providing evidence to (i) support the development of relevant building assessment methods, technologies and tools (ii) support the development of relevant policy and regulations in order to effectively implement such tools.

We expect the combination of our building science and complex systems work to help improve integration across government departments and reduce tensions between policy objectives with respect to energy demand and occupant health, wellbeing and productivity. This will be achieved by articulating a shared set of objectives and indicators and understanding the links between them to support policy analysis. If successfully embedded into policy processes, the work has the potential to have significant beneficial impacts, including: improving wellbeing outcomes related to buildings at a whole population level; significantly improving the value for money of spending across building objectives, potentially saving £billions; improving workplace productivity and increasing the likelihood of successful carbon emission reductions. Demonstrating improved decision-making in this complex area has wider currency as many countries are currently attempting to implement policies that might improve the wellbeing and environmental impacts of buildings. The process we are establishing has the potential to place this 'best with best' UK/China team at the forefront of this area of research.

Finally, and importantly, this project will employ a number of researchers who will benefit greatly from the highly cross-disciplinary working environment which offers them the opportunity to gain a broad range of understanding and experience of the issues that arise in such research. They will also have the opportunities to learn through knowledge exchange between the two collaborating institutes. The researchers will transfer their skills and experiences in their future career opportunities in academia, industry, Government etc.
 
Description China/UK Workshop 4-5 April 2016 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact 14 colleagues from the School of Architecture of Tsinghua University, China took part in a joint workshop and stakeholder event in London as part of the collaboration of the TOP Project ('The Total Performance of Low Carbon Buildings in China and the UK').

Delegates were welcomed by Prof Alan Penn, Dean of The Bartlett Faculty of the Built Environment and Prof Tadj Oreszczyn Director of The Bartlett School of Environment, Energy and Resources (BSEER). The project is jointly lead by Prof Mike Davies (UCL IEDE) and Prof Borong Lin (Tsinghua University)

An extremely stimulating and energetic series of meetings took place which aimed to promote understanding and lead to better integration of the project, which spans the multiple causes of the energy performance gap in buildings in both in China and the UK.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.indigo-sandbox.ucl.ac.uk/bartlett/iede/research/project-directory/projects/TOP
 
Description Presentation to Swan Housing Association 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Presentation to Swan Housing Association related to building performance evaluation of BlackWall Reach development (TOP case study): followed engaging occupants of BlackWall Reach development in East London and UCL Student Accommodation in Caledonian Road in building performance evaluation and energy efficiency
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Stakeholder interviews for system dynamics workpackage (WP3) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact A series of interviews with stakeholders for input into the system dynamics work package, aiming to assertain essential information on the individual companies, thier viwsws and policies that would impact and guide the emphasis of the TOP project
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Stakeholder meeting 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The fuction of this event was to discuss in deatil the directio, methods and milestones for the project and to clarify the scope of the individual workpackages as follows:

WP1 examines the contrasting context within which buildings have been designed and constructed and within which they are used and operated internationally, addressing the policies and regulatory regimes that relate to energy/IEQ but also the assessment techniques used and the ways that buildings are utilised.

WP2 builds on this analysis by undertaking a monitoring campaign in both countries to allow comparisons between the performance of the same types of building in the two different contexts. Evaluation of how energy/IEQ performance varies between building type and country. This package will enable the assembly of a unique database relating to the interlinked performance gaps, developing semi-automated building assessment methods, technologies and tools to enable rapid characterisation of probable pathologies to determine the most cost-effective route to remedy the underlying root causes of energy/IEQ underperformance.

However, energy/IEQ issues do not form a closed system. In the development of relevant policies and regulations, it is vital to consider the wider system, which is addressed in WP3. The team at UCL has undertaken pilot work within the housing sector as part of the EPSRC funded Platform Grant ('The unintended consequences of decarbonising the built environment'), successfully employing a participatory system dynamics (PSD) approach with a team of over 50 stakeholders and we extend that work here to other building typologies. Such an approach can help support decision-making in complex systems, addressing challenges central to the TOP work.

WP4 will govern dissemination of the research.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.indigo-sandbox.ucl.ac.uk/bartlett/iede/research/project-directory/projects/TOP
 
Description Workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact The workshop concerned the system dynamics related work of the project (WP 3).
Two main items were addressed during the workshop:
1. Presentation of current modelling work on energy performance and indoor environmental quality
2. Exploration of parallels between the building industry and other sectors of relevance to a low energy-carbon emission trajectory
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description • Project meeting with key stakeholders in procurement of Keynsham Civic centre 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Project meeting with key stakeholders in procurement of Keynsham Civic centre including Max Fordham Engineers, AHR Global Architects, and Willmott Dixon: 8 February 2017 it's function was to establish protocols and working methods and understand the procument process.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014,2016