Architects have the ability to lead the drive towards EV adoption

Sustainable design and green construction are going to lead industry debates in the coming year (and the foreseeable future). As we look to 2020, I think one thing which should be front and centre in architects’ minds is the integration and utility of electric vehicles (EVs) in the design process.

There’s no doubt it’s a topical issue. Just recently, Boris Johnson outlined plans to dedicate £1 billion to EV manufacturing with a view to encourage an increase in adoption. Certainly we will need to adapt the existing built environment and carefully plan future development to provide for the low and zero-emissions transport options of the future.

However, we face a few hurdles towards creating an EV-friendly society, not least from existing infrastructure. Lack of charging points is one, but another, more important, obstacle is grid capacity. As it currently stands, if the nation were to mass adopt electric transport overnight, the National Grid wouldn’t be able to cope with the surge in energy demand. It’s an inconvenient fact which needs to be solved rapidly if we want to meet our national net-zero carbon targets by 2050.

This conundrum presents architects with a golden opportunity to consider how the built environment can play a role in the promotion of EV adoption. Fundamentally it requires a creative and holistic approach, looking beyond conventional attitudes toward sustainable buildings, and designing technology and facilities into a building which are specifically tailored for EV drivers.

‘Active Buildings’ offer one potential solution to realise a nation of EV users and simultaneously alleviate pressure on the grid from mass adoption.

Applicable for both commercial and residential projects, Active Building systems are those which enable a building to support the wider energy system by intelligently integrating renewable energy technologies for heat, power and transport. Significantly, they reduce demand on the national grid, a crucial balancing factor towards mass adoption of EVs.

It’s a relatively modest proposal, but equally, it’s not as banal as tacking a solar panel to the office roof and an extra power outlet in the supermarket carpark. What we’re referring to is an intuitive system by which energy is directly generated through photovoltaic panels (or other renewable energy systems) on a building’s roof and walls, can be stored in the structure of the building itself and then released on demand through a smart management system.

The idea is that, as well as heating and powering the building, it could power vehicles too; supporting mobility needs, whether a single car or a fleet of lorries.

To demonstrate the potential of Active Buildings for EV use; our founder Prof. Dave Worsley has been able to cover over 20,000 miles of road in the last 12 months, solely using electricity generated from an Active Building at our test site in Swansea University. It’s quite an achievement, highlighting a huge saving for businesses and homeowners. It’s also a simple way in which architects can significantly add long-term, sustainable value into a property.

As a priority, I think we need to increase an understanding about how our structures can work harder towards a net zero carbon future. Building with electric vehicles in mind is just one way of doing it.

Simon McWhirter is head of engagement at Active Building Centre