Thinking globally

Published:  03 June, 2013

CIBSE President, Presidential Address
The huge Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport is one of the major projects that George Adams helped to deliver

George Adams. CIBSE president for 2013/14, sees an urgent need for buildings and cities to use much less energy through a process of continuous improvement throughout their life.

George Adams, CIBSE’s president for 2012/13 is no stranger to challenging, demanding and large projects. Three jobs that he personally helped to deliver are the massive Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport, McLaren Group at Woking and what he describes as the ‘jolly green giant at the top of Tottenham Court Road [in London] — University College Hospital’. Indeed, the biographical note about him on the CIBSE web site reads, ‘His business experience ranges from consulting work, designing, managing sites, turnkey design and build work, through to engineering leadership of large teams.’

The scope of his thinking extends well beyond that, as was evidenced in his presidential address when he took on board the issues surrounding climate change on a truly global scale and over a long period of time.

To him key facts underpinning the whole issue of climate change and its amelioration are the growth in world population and the energy used per head of population. In 1966, energy consumption per head of world population was 1.2 toe (tonnes of oil equivalent). By 2006, that consumption had increased to 1.7 toe. World population is growing, too, with estimates suggesting the 3.5 billion population of 2006 had grown to around 6.5 billion by 2006 — by far the majority of it in the developing world. By 2050, it is estimated, 70% of the world’s population will live in cities.

But it is where the energy is used that George Adams focused on. 40 to 50% of the world’s energy consumption is in the built environment, and western society accounts for about 80% of the world’s energy consumption. He summarises, ‘Just under 20% of the world’s population is using just over 60% of the energy, which tells me that we really need to something about our buildings and our cities,’ he said.

About George Adams

George Adams is engineering director at SPIE UK and has been a member of CIBSE for over 30 years. He brings to the presidency extensive experience of the contracting side of the industry. His business experience ranges from consulting work, designing, managing sites, turnkey ‘design and build’, through to engineering management of large teams — all with a strong theme of innovation and leadership by example.

He says, ‘Through our Green Economy initiative, SPIE shares many of the same aims and objectives as CIBSE in relation to climate change, energy efficiency and the move towards a more integrated and sustainable industry.

‘It is essential that practising engineering organisations should contribute to the improvement of their industry, and being part of professional institutions is an efficient way of doing that.

‘Being president offers the opportunity to listen and understand the needs of the membership and voice a collective view on important issue that affect our profession and the roles that it has in addressing the needs of the wider community.’

His suggestion is that we should move to a model where buildings and cities are continuously improved throughout their life to achieve better energy performance.

He is concerned about the scale of energy wastage in buildings, referring to surveys suggesting that 20% of energy used in buildings is wasted and others suggesting that 30% or more might be appropriate.

He said, ‘We need better information on energy performance in use so we can benchmark the actual performance of buildings in relationship to energy-investment opportunities.

‘Saving energy has huge potential towards tackling the problems of our cities, and one in which we can all increase our commitment — and CIBSE will certainly be pursuing it.’

With buildings generally having a 55-year life cycle and with only about 1 to 2% being replaced each year, existing buildings need to be adapted to improve energy consumption. ‘The matter is now one of scale on a city-wide basis.’

Addressing energy saving can extend way beyond buildings to entire cities and their heat island effect. George Adams referred to an experiment on doubling urban plants on a large scale and how it has showed promise in reducing summer peak temperatures by up to 3 K and potentially reducing smog days by up to 50%. Research in the USA has indicated that this approach is commercially viable and has a relatively quick payback.

I was then surprised,’ said George Adams, ‘to find that in Melbourne [Australia] they are looking at a very similar project — how to strategically deal with streets, parks and facades using urban planting that can improve city conditions, particularly in hot spells.’The concept is within CIBSE’s radar, having come up at the recent CIBSE technical symposium at Liverpool.

‘So planting our cities and our buildings would reduce summer heat gains and winter heat losses and provide better places for us to live and work.’

The supply of energy was another topic discussed by George Adams, and he referred to the £440 billion investment by the top 200 coal, oil and gas companies to explore reserves of fossil fuels. But can we afford to use these reserves? ‘The recent so-called “carbon bubble report” suggests that 69% of coal, oil and gas reserves must stay in the ground if we are to have an 80% chance of hitting that 2 K climate-change figure.’

So, even with less energy being required because of energy-saving measures, how will energy demand be met?

Concentrated solar power (CSP) is one technology that excites George Adams. It uses mirrors or lenses to concentrate a large area of sunlight onto a small area. Electrical power is produced when the concentrated light is converted to heat, which drives a heat engine (usually a steam turbine) connected to an electrical power generator.What impresses George Adams is that just 0.3% of the area of north Africa could supply all the energy required by the EU. ‘That figure takes some getting your head around,’ he says.

And the area of concentrated solar power needed to generate as much electricity as currently consumed by the entire world would make little more than a blot on the landscape of north Africa.

1 km2 of concentrated solar power could generate 100 to 130 GWh of solar electricity a year — the same as a conventional oil- or gas-fired plant. As for energy-generating potential, 80% of the African landscape receives almost 2 GWh/m2 a year.

That there would be many technical and political issues to be overcome, he acknowledges, ‘but such co-operation could lead to removing energy poverty from north Africa while providing Europe with a massive increase in renewable energy sources’.

Experience is being gained with the first CSP farm built in Spain in 2007, which is reported to be doing ‘quite well’.

University College Hospital in London, the ‘jolly green giant’ at the top of Tottenham Court road, is another of George Adams’ projects.

But what about the here and now?

In 2011, renewables accounted for 9% of Germany’s energy requirement, 5.3% in the USA, 4% in the UK and 6.75% in China.

In May 2012, renewable-energy in Germany reached 22 GW — a third of a working day’s requirement, and currently a world record.

Other notable achievements include Helsinki’s heating and cooling energy network being connected to 93% of heated spaces. And Denmark, Sweden and Finland lead the world in applying heat-pump technology to waste heat from cities.

On a global scale, renewable energy meets only about 16% of energy consumption, prompting George Adams to assert, ‘Progress is just not good enough. Making our buildings more efficient needs to be accelerated soon. The opportunity to achieve our climate-change targets can only happen if we take a broad strategic approach.

‘I propose that working together with others, we can create a knowledge bank for cities and show how to respond to climate change, and I would like to see CIBSE having a role in co-ordinating that activity.

‘Energy efficiency and the adaptation of our cities will provide major parts of the opportunity to significantly increase our motivation and action — for the present as well as for the future.’

The task of limiting the effect of climate change is a global one. George Adams concluded, ‘We have but one ship to sail in , and it badly needs repairing. It is a huge job, but one I honestly believe we can tackle.’



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