Irish renewable energy experts designing “next generation” smart buildings

Lorna Siggins writes on The Times website about a project in Ireland that is focusing on smart buildings where different technologies “talk” to each other. This is part of a larger  IDEAS Horizon 2020 project

 

Experts develop new wave of smart buildings

Irish renewable energy experts are designing “next generation” smart buildings where different technologies can “talk” to each other.

A community building in Mayo and a similar building in Italy will be used to test how solar panels, thermal storage and heat pumps can generate energy more efficiently.

Trinity College Dublin and Energy Co-operatives Ireland are collaborating in the €3.5 million Ideas (innovative integrated renewable energy system) project, supported by the EU Horizon 2020 programme.

Sarah McCormack, an engineer at Trinity, said the project was focused on the cost-effective improvement of energy efficiency in buildings. This would mean existing buildings could be refurbished with various renewable energy technologies across various climate conditions, she said.

Speaking about the community building that is acting as the test site, she said: “We have solar panels, a heat pump in ground and some energy storage material in the floors to allow for more efficient use of energy, but we are also trying to work on these technologies to make them more effective.

“In Ireland, we have a large amount of diffuse light, which is hard to collect as it is coming in all directions. So for our solar panels, we are using reflective material attached to the panels to concentrate that energy.

“Research which mimics nature will also be drawn on, such as work by Ulster University,” McCormack added. Honeycomb and leaf structures are examples where “nature already has in place mechanisms for heat transfer. We look at how heat and fluid moves in nature and see how we can apply that in sustainable energy systems.”

Speaking about the potential technology, she said: “There will be a predictive quality for the home or building owner, where you will know your energy demand and whether you can get it from solar panels or the grid on a particular day.”

Project colleagues at the University of Ferrara in Italy are focusing on geothermal energy, and colleagues in Serbia are examining “intelligent control” of energy systems. “Seven of our 14 partners are on the island of Ireland, and we have selected two demonstration sites — one in Mayo and one in Ferrara — which will be tested later this year.”

Installing solar panels on walls, as well as roofs of buildings, is one of the project’s many benefits, said Cormac Walsh, of Energy Co-Operatives Ireland. “This has potential for existing buildings — whether they be homes or office blocks — to make the most of different renewable energy sources.”

McCormack said that Ireland needed more incentives for renewable energy, such as zero interest loans, to allow more people to be able to afford installation. “Feed-in tariffs where renewable energy providers can sell electricity back to the grid are fine, but they have to be paid by a levy on everyone, so it is not very equitable.

“There does need to be a more inclusive way of enabling people to retrofit renewable energy systems, as we have international climate targets to meet.”

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