Environment

Jamaica leads with zero-energy buildings

Wednesday, July 17, 2013    

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BUILDINGS which generate as much or more power than they consume.

That is the future for Jamaica — one which a collaboration among the University of the West Indies (UWI), The Global Environment Facility (GEF) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is seeking to make possible.

They are called zero-energy/energy-plus buildings (ZEB/EB) and work by combining energy-efficient designs with efficient sources of energy so that they produce their own energy, and then some.

Under the Promoting Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy in Buildings project, recently launched at the UWI by Vice Chancellor, Professor E Nigel Harris, Jamaica is to lead the way in the Caribbean in the development of these buildings. Led by Professor Anthony Clayton and Professor Tara Dasgupta from the UWI's Institute of Sustainable Development (ISD), the project will deliver an advanced prototype of a zero-energy/energy-plus building in Jamaica - the first for the island and the region. The model will be sited at the UWI, Mona.

Speaking at the launch event, Mr Edu Hassing, representative of the GEF/UNEP said "a unique feature of the project is that it aims to increase energy efficiency in the buildings and at the same time make use of renewable energy in buildings, thereby reducing the emission of greenhouse gases which lead to global warming".

He said further that it was envisaged that "the building of a zero-energy demonstration building and the retrofitting of an existing building to become more energy efficient will result in new building codes, regulations and practices, and the buildings will be replicated not only in Jamaica, but the region and other countries with similar climatic conditions".

"The buildings are to come on stream in the next two to three years," the ISD told the Jamaica Observer, adding that while it might not immediately become development policy, it is hoped that they will be widely accepted.

Arguing that if all buildings were to be upgraded to current standards, it would displace 20-25 per cent of global energy demand, Professor Dasgupta said the ZEB would displace it even more.

"(The project) will show how we can save at least 40 per cent of our energy bill," said Dasgupta. Also, he said, the model house has the capacity to be completely self-sufficient in water and to be used as a shelter for approximately 100 persons displaced by a hurricane.

Pointing to volatile prices for oil and Jamaica's falling energy productivity, Professor Clayton said: "It is now feasible to construct Zero Energy Buildings with net zero demand. This involves high levels of energy efficiency, with photovoltaics and biomass used to meet demand and power storage or a smart-grid as backup."

He added that leading examples of ZEB/EB buildings exist in the UK where the European Parliament has mandated that by 2019 all new buildings must meet the net zero energy requirements. And in Freiburg, Germany, "The Solar Village" of residential units built in 2008 generate enough energy for use and for export.

UWI Campus Registrar, Camille Bell-Hutchinson hailed the project as "well-needed and innovative, and also said that the UWI was proud to be in the forefront of this development. Professor Harris, meanwhile, said the university was playing its part in "helping to lay the cornerstone of sustainable development in Jamaica and the region".

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