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Building and sunshine

How sustainable building design can lower energy costs

Summer is just around the corner and as air conditioners start to whirr across the country, the current chatter about energy prices is sure to reach a frenzied pitch. While gas supply, clean energy targets and coal stations are debated daily in the media, are ordinary Aussies helpless to keep power bills from soaring? This year, probably. But sustainable building design could be the key to keeping costs down in the future.

Sustainable building design reduces energy usage

While energy supply is out of householders’ hands, usage isn’t. Sustainable buildings use smart architecture to provide natural climate control, reducing or even removing the need to turn those air conditioners on. When integrated with digital technology, sustainable design can bring down power bills, by making consumers more aware of their usage.

A Deakin initiative is looking at ways that architecture, engineering and technology can combine to create innovative sustainable building concepts.

Led by Professor of Architecture and Interdisciplinary Design, Jules Moloney, the Interdisciplinary Design environments for Engineering and Architecture (IDeEA) lab is where architects and engineers collaborate. The latest project is a smart screen for buildings that tracks the sun for optimal climate control.

Hybrid sun screen systems for climate control

Prof. Moloney believes that hybrid responsive sun screening systems can reduce energy consumption by placing sun and shade where it’s needed automatically, while also giving building users the control to create their own microclimates.

‘It’s completely ridiculous when you think about it, that we’re still pretty much working off one big thermostat, invented 100 years ago,’ Prof. Moloney says.

While the screen concept isn’t new, a way to make the system affordable is. The IDeEA lab’s Hybrid Responsive Sun Screen project aims to make the facade multi-purpose, turning it into a media screen and solar panel as well.

Prof. Moloney says smart sun screens are a known solution to reduce energy consumption, but aren’t often implemented due to the capital cost. ‘The idea is that if you control each individual panel, when it’s not required for environmental design purposes, it can be re-purposed as a media facade. It offsets the cost, because you’re potentially getting income from advertising,’ he explains.

By adding solar cell capability to each cell, the cost can be reduced further. ‘They generate power for themselves and potentially tap into the grid as well,’ Prof. Moloney adds.

The future of architecture

Eventually, buildings will become increasingly smart and connected, providing tools to monitor energy usage and an opportunity for behaviour change.

‘Artificial Intelligence (AI) is coming to our homes,’ Prof. Moloney says. ‘More and more control systems are going into the built environment, meaning everything is smart. You first take the information from the building and then use machine learning to manage energy load, like turning appliances off when you don’t need them.’

Lecturer in Architecture Sustainability at Deakin, Dr Astrid Roetzel, believes there’s an attitude shift toward seeing buildings as an eco-system, and this mindset impacts the design and use of energy in buildings. ‘In the past, we had buildings that were a shell, there were people in them and they were considered somewhat separate and disconnected. I think the trend is going towards understanding buildings as living dynamic systems,’ Dr Roetzel says.

‘People are no longer just passively exposed to heating, cooling and lighting,’ Dr Roetzel explains. ‘They actually control them and that way, they can directly have an impact on the energy performance of a building.’

It’s exciting developments like this that could turn the way we look at energy supply and usage on its head. And those rising power bills? Maybe there’s hope for them yet.

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Prof. Jules Moloney
Prof. Jules Moloney

Professor of Architecture and Interdisciplinary Design, Deakin University

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Dr Astrid Roetzel
Dr Astrid Roetzel

Lecturer, Architectural Sustainability, Deakin University

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