Renewable energy in the UK: Five public places that have gone green

Renewable energy is no longer merely an aspiration: it’s a reality. From libraries to museums to churches, public buildings are embracing their responsibility to set trends in sustainability. The numbers speak for themselves: according to an article in The Independent, solar and wind energy comprised a greater percentage of energy usage than nuclear.

Which architects, businesses, and city officials are turning to more renewable resources? Let’s take a look at five exciting building projects throughout the UK:

1. The Jubilee Library in Brighton: Rainwater toilets and wind towers

Jubilee Library in Brighton, in keeping with its status as a purveyor of public knowledge, has made some incredible strides with renewable energy. Designed by Bennetts and Lomax Cassidy & Edwards and the Major Projects Team of Brighton Hove, this library makes use of several innovations. For one, the concrete inner structure retains heat to reduce energy use. Though moving towards renewable energy is always a huge undertaking, this project was made simpler by the library’s south-facing position, which allows the building to collect energy from the sun through south glass doors.

There are several other innovations at play in the Jubilee Library. Heat is stored in specially designed walls so that it can gradually release throughout the day, while wind towers on the roof act as a cooling mechanism in hot weather. And that’s not all that’s on the roof: rainwater collection on the roof is used to flush toilets inside the school. Lights modulate themselves based on natural light from outside, decreasing energy usage at key points throughout the day.

2. Gloucester Cathedral: Award-winning solar panels

According to the BBC, more than 5,000 churches in the UK are making the switch to renewable energy. The Church of England takes a powerful stance on energy efficiency, believing that a switch to renewable energy is not just a trend, but a necessity.

One example out of thousands is the Gloucester Cathedral, which gained recognition for its use of solar panels. In fact, Mypower, the group that installed solar panels on the Cathedral won an award with the British Renewable Energy Awards for installing solar panels on the ancient building’s roof. With 150 solar panels installed, this renewable energy source will save the Gloucester Cathedral hundreds of thousands of pounds over the next 25 years.

3. The British Museum: Bee colonies and natural lighting

The British Museum wants to capitalise all the exciting new innovations in sustainable building, reporting that it is currently trialling a green roof for one of its buildings. This will allow for bee colonies, foliage, and bird nesting boxes —  making for a truly green roof indeed. In addition, the museum plans to work with natural ventilation, natural lighting that will dim and brighten based on environmental conditions, and use photovoltaic cells and ground source heat transfer to both heat and cool the building.

Although these changes are still in the beginning stages, the British Museum expresses excitement over the potential of its energy efficiency projects to minimise energy consumption and decrease carbon dioxide emissions over time.

4. Square Mile of London: “Cleaner and Greener”

Thought these individual buildings were impressive? Soon the whole “Square Mile” of London will be renewable. In a statement, Catherine McGuinness, Chairwoman of the City of London Corporation’s Policy and Resources Committee said:

“Sourcing 100% renewable energy will make us cleaner and greener, reducing our grid reliance and running some of our buildings on zero carbon.”

Meant to initiate in October 2018, this project is pushing for 100% renewable energy in the central district of London. This is exciting news for the densely populated and busy Square Mile of London. The hope is that this green move will help set a precedent in sustainability, and demonstrate the overall viability of green energy.

5. Cockermouth Eco Centre: Recycled materials

The Cockermouth Eco Centre, as its name suggests, has implemented several green energy strategies. The builders used sustainable timber panels, recycled newspapers, and concrete from railway lines to create the structure. Incredibly, the foundation’s paving slabs were sourced from an out-of-business cinema. Like many renewable buildings, photovoltaic cells and wind turbines generate energy for the Eco Centre too.

It’s no wonder greenhouse gas emissions went down 3% last year in the UK. From churches to libraries to the whole Square Mile of London, renewable energy in the UK seems more like a rule than an exception. Exciting innovations in cooling and heating, along with unique methods of integrating the natural world with buildings, promise to expand definitions of renewable energy for years to come.

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