Positive Energy Buildings

Firefighter Safety & Solar Photovoltaic Panels On Buildings ??

2016-09-14:  Only now are we really catching up with the extremely serious matter of Fire Safety in Sustainable Buildings … serious for building occupants … and firefighters !

‘ In order to achieve sustainable development, environmental protection and energy efficiency/conservation shall constitute integral parts of the development process, and shall not be considered in isolation.’

2016 Dublin Code of Ethics: Design, Engineering, Construction & Operation of a Safe, Resilient & Sustainable Built Environment for All   ( www.sfe-fire.eu )

The Performance Target for New Construction must be Positive Energy Buildings.

So … we will see more and more Solar Photovoltaic Panels installed on more and more buildings … in every country.  Certainly not less !   And, let’s face it, many will not be properly approved, i.e. shown to be ‘fit for their intended use’ …

Colour photograph showing a house fire caused by Solar Photovoltaic Roof Panels.

Colour photograph showing a house fire caused by Solar Photovoltaic Roof Panels.

At the beginning of this decade, a Fire Research Project was carried out by the Underwriters Laboratories Firefighter Research Institute in the USA … and it addressed the issue of firefighter vulnerability to electrical hazards, and serious injury, when fighting a fire involving Solar Photovoltaic (PV) Modules and Support Systems installed on buildings.

Colour photograph showing two firefighters on a roof, one with cutting equipment. Solar Photovoltaic Roof Panels restrict firefighter access to building interior roof spaces.

Colour photograph showing two firefighters on a roof, one with cutting equipment. Solar Photovoltaic Roof Panels restrict firefighter access to building interior roof spaces.

The Total Global Solar Energy Capacity averaged 40 % annual growth from 2000 to 2010 (source: International Energy Agency).  In the USA, Grid-Connected Solar Photovoltaic Capacity grew 50 % per year for much of that time (source: US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission).  These trends increase the potential of a Fire Service Response to a building having a Photovoltaic Installation, irrespective of the PV being involved with the initiation of the fire event.  As a result, conventional firefighter tactics for suppression, ventilation and overhaul have been complicated, leaving firefighters vulnerable to potentially unrecognized exposure.  Though the electrical and fire hazards associated with electrical generation and distribution systems are well known, PV Systems present unique safety concerns.  A limited body of knowledge and insufficient data exist to understand these risks … to the extent that Fire Services have been unable to develop safety solutions and respond in a safe manner.

This Fire Research Project developed the empirical data needed to quantify the hazards associated with PV Installations … and provided the foundation to modify current or develop new firefighting practices to reduce firefighter deaths and injury.

Colour photograph showing a large array of Solar Photovoltaic Panels on a roof. Extra loading on roof structures must be considered, as well as possible interference with roof fire evacuation routes for able-bodied occupants.

Colour photograph showing a large array of Solar Photovoltaic Panels on a roof. Extra loading on roof structures must be considered, as well as possible interference with roof fire evacuation routes for able-bodied occupants.

The Tactical Considerations addressed during the Project include:

  • Shock hazard due to the presence of water and PV power during fire suppression activities ;
  • Shock hazard due to the direct contact with energized components during firefighting operations ;
  • Emergency disconnect and disruption techniques ;
  • Severing of conductors ;
  • Assessment of PV power during low ambient light, artificial light and light from a fire ;
  • Assessment of potential shock hazard from damaged PV Modules and Systems.

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Office of California’s State Fire Marshal – November 2010

Fire Operations for Photovoltaic Emergencies (CAL FIRE – 2010)  (PDF File, 1.99MB)

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UL Report (2011):  The Following Summarizes the Findings of This Fire Research Project:

  1. The electric shock hazard due to the application of water is dependent on voltage, water conductivity, distance and spray pattern.  A slight adjustment from a solid fire hose stream towards a fog pattern (10 degree cone angle) reduced measured current below perception level.  Salt water should not be used on live electrical equipment.  A distance of 6 m has been determined to reduce potential shock hazard from a 1000 VDC source to a level below 2 mA, considered as safe.  It should be noted that pooled water or foam may become energized due to damage in the PV System.
  1. Outdoor weather exposure-rated electrical enclosures are not resistant to water penetration by fire hose streams.  A typical enclosure will collect water and present an electrical hazard.
  1. Firefighters’ gloves and boots afford limited protection against electrical shock provided the insulating surface is intact and dry.  They should not be considered equivalent to Electrical Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
  1. Turning off an array is not as simple as opening a disconnect switch.  Depending on the individual system, there may be multiple circuits wired together to a common point such as a combiner box.  All circuits supplying power to this point must be interrupted to partially de-energize the system.  As long as the array is illuminated, parts of the system will remain energized.  Unlike a typical electrical or gas utility … on a PV Array, there is no single point of disconnect.
  1. Tarps offer varying degrees of effectiveness to interrupt the generation of power from a PV Array, independent of cost.  Heavy, densely woven fabric and dark plastic films reduce the power from PV to nearly zero.  As a general guide, if light can be seen through a tarp, it should not be used.  Caution should be exercised during the deployment of tarps on damaged equipment, as a wet tarp may become energized and conduct hazardous current if it contacts live equipment.  Also, firefighting foam should not be relied upon to block light.
  1. When illuminated by artificial light sources, such as Fire Department light trucks or an exposure fire, PV Systems are capable of producing electrical power sufficient to cause a lock-on hazard.
  1. Severely damaged PV Arrays are capable of producing hazardous conditions ranging from perception to electrocution.  Damage to the array may result in the creation of new and unexpected circuit paths.  These paths may include both array components (module frame, mounting racks, conduits, etc) and building components (metal roofs, flashings and gutters).  Care must be exercised during all operations, both interior and exterior.  Contacting a local professional PV Installation Company should be considered to mitigate potential hazards.
  1. Damage to modules from tools may result in both electrical and fire hazards.  The hazard may occur at the point of damage or at other locations depending on the electrical path. Metal roofs present unique challenges in that the surface is conductive unlike other types such as shingle, ballasted or single ply.
  1. Severing of conductors in both metal and plastic conduit results in electrical and fire hazards.  Care must be exercised during ventilation and overhaul.
  1. Responding personnel must stay away from the roofline in the event of modules or sections of an array sliding off the roof.
  1. Fires under an array but above the roof may breach roofing materials and decking … allowing fire to propagate into the attic space of the building.

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Sustainable Buildings – Design Agenda for the 21st Century ?

2009-05-06:  From the late 1980’s and the beginning of the 1990’s in European Union (EU) Research Programmes, it was noticeable that the more pressing early concerns about Energy-efficiency – logical after the oil crises of the 1970’s – were beginning to merge with those of Environment-friendliness, i.e. protection of the environment.  Even at that time, however, faint background references to Sustainability were becoming more common.

 

In 1995, therefore, Sustainable Design International developed and introduced the acronym ‘SEED’ … which stands for Sustainable, Environment-friendly, Energy-efficient Development … as a practical control, or check, on our own work output.

 

 

The next break-through came a few years later.  I briefly discussed the wide conceptual basis for our Corporate Design Philosophy in the post: ‘Sustainable Human & Social Development ?’, dated 2009-03-31.  This basis, while still continually evolving, is critical in terms of services provided, performance targets to be achieved, methods of working and relationships with client organizations, builders, craftsmen/women, manufacturers, etc.

 

This should explain the futility, in our humble view, of the ‘Green’ Agenda (as distinct from the ‘Sustainability’ Agenda) … and approaches based solely on Environmental Aspects of Sustainable Development.  They are a complete waste of time and resources.

 

 

Now in 2009, we remain fully convinced that Sustainable Design Solutions are appropriate to local geography, social need, climate, economy and culture … and are ‘person-centred’ and ‘reliability-based’.

 

Forget the images of mud housing and reading by candle light … the Future of our Built Environment is High-Tech, Smart … and Sustainable !   Let there be no doubt !!

 

 

 

Why not begin, so, by looking at a Simple Building Type … Sustainable Housing ?

 

With all of the current hype and fuss about German ‘Passiv’ Houses and Austrian High-Tech Timber Framed Construction … we have been in contact with a number of manufacturers in this region of Central Europe.  After many meetings and detailed discussions, we are disappointed … broken hearted !

 

Below follows our shopping list for the practical, commercial and affordable application, i.e. non-research, of Advanced Systems of Construction (small/medium/large scale projects – new-build and existing projects).

 

N.B.  Current Irish legal requirements and local authority technical control procedures are entirely inadequate.

 

Is anybody out there listening ???

 

 

 

To meet the urgency of Climate Change Adaptation and the challenge of Reliable Sustainability Implementation … a ‘SEED’ Building in Ireland must reach these performance targets:

 

         be set in Sustainable Landscaping (where appropriate) with Life Cycle Sustainable Drainage … and exhibit a considered, harmonious relationship between the building’s ‘interior’ environment and the ‘exterior’ built and social environments ;

 

         have a Minimum Building Life Cycle of 100 Years ;

 

         be Smart/Intelligent, Electronically Mature and facilitate Remote Building Management ;

 

         be properly shown to be Fit for Intended Use (in the Location of Use) … by CE Marking, using European Standards/Norms & European Technical Approvals (refer to Part D of the Irish Building Regulations and similar requirements in other European national building codes, European Union Safety at Work and Product Liability Legislation) ;

 

         be Super Energy-Efficient, with negligible thermal bridging and accidental air seepage … and promote and encourage, by design, Energy Conservation ;

 

         have a substantial component of Renewable Energy & Heat Technologies … sufficient to return a multiple of the building’s energy consumption to an Intelligent Regional or District Grid … and also incorporate Recycling, Rainwater Re-Use and Waste Management Technologies ;

 

         offer a high level of Indoor Air Quality, including proper protection from Natural Radon ;

 

         be Flexible and Adaptable with regard to internal layout, and Accessible for People with Activity Limitations (2001 WHO ICF) – in order to prolong Building Life Cycle and maximize Building Usability ;

 

         contain, as standard and for reasons of safety, a Domestic Sprinkler System and a remotely monitored Fire Detection System … plus a Carbon Monoxide (CO) Detection System, with a detection unit in the vicinity of each fuel burning appliance ;

 

and

 

         be Competently Built and Reliably Completed to project programme and cost estimate … with the building’s ‘Real’ Performance-in-Use capable of being tested, and continually monitored, over the complete building life cycle ;

 

and

 

         be simple and straightforward for Building Users/Occupiers to operate.

 

 

 

Principal Areas of Inadequate Performance …

 

1.  Showing Fitness for Intended Use.  Although a Single European Market for the Construction Sector exists on paper (not yet in reality) … this requirement is not well understood by manufacturers … particularly in Germany and Austria, where outdated national approaches to building product/system approval still take precedence over anything at European level.

 

2.  Domestic Sprinkler Systems.  There is a high level of resistance, among most manufacturers, to the installation of these systems.  Not acceptable !!

 

3.  Accessibility of Buildings for People with Activity Limitations.  Not well understood by manufacturers and building organizations (at all levels).  Although there is a lot of legislation in Europe covering this particular issue … it is routinely disregarded and/or very poorly implemented.  In Germany and Austria, for example, the long outdated term ‘barrier-free design’ is still in common use.  Can you believe that ?

 

4.  Radon Protection of Buildings.  Not considered important in Germany and Austria … so manufacturers just don’t bother.

 

5.  Fabric Thermal Performance.  Where building systems are ‘adapted’ for use in Ireland, I have seen thermal performance, as originally designed in Germany/Austria, seriously compromised by the installation of meter boxes and permanent ventilation openings in external walls.  Just the tip of the iceberg !

 

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BER Certificates, Energy Efficiency & Climate Change (II)

2009-02-23:  The World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) has identified buildings as one of the five main users of energy where ‘megatrends’ are needed to transform global energy efficiency in the immediate short term, and so meet the daunting challenge of Climate Change Adaptation.  They account for 40% of primary energy (primary energy includes the energy required to generate, transmit and distribute electricity, as well as energy directly consumed on site) in most developed countries, and consumption is rising. 

                         … 2007 WBCSD Energy Efficiency in Buildings (EEB) Project

 

 

If you find that you are not responding emotionally to that … please leave your computer immediately and take a cold shower !   When you return, check out how far adrift Ireland is – even on paper – in meeting its legally binding 1997 Kyoto Protocol (UNFCCC) responsibilities.  After 2012, the European Union’s 2020 Targets will be in a different league altogether.

 

Let there be do doubt, therefore, that over the next few years … nothing less than a complete cultural shift will be necessary throughout the European Construction Sector – and this very much includes Ireland – beginning with all research and design disciplines and extending right across to any person who works on a construction site or has any part to play in managing, maintaining or servicing a building.

 

 

 

Burden Sharing in the Built Environment

 

Separate Energy Efficiency Strategies will be required to vastly improve the energy performance of:

         existing buildings … onto which many energy efficiency measures can be successfully grafted … but they will not be cheap, and they will not be 100% effective ;

         buildings of historical, architectural or cultural importance … the integrity of which must be protected ;   and

         new buildings, which must therefore carry the major burden.

 

In addition … if we fully value the Agricultural Industry in Ireland, the burden to be carried by New Buildings may have to be far heavier.

 

 

 

Suggested Building Energy Efficiency Targets in Ireland to 2020

 

From the Beginning of 2012, i.e. after an Essential Transition Period involving extensive re-education and up-skilling, accompanied by ‘attractive’ incentives …

         Require all New Buildings to achieve a Minimum Building Energy Rating (BER) of ‘A1’ … indicating a Primary Energy Consumption less than or equal to 25 kWh/m2/yr.  And require 40% of Primary Energy Consumed to be, directly or indirectly, from Renewable Energy Sources ;

         Require all Existing Buildings to achieve a Minimum Building Energy Rating (BER) of ‘B1’ … indicating a Primary Energy Consumption less than or equal to 100 kWh/m2/yr.  And require 15% of Primary Energy Consumed to be, directly or indirectly, from Renewable Energy Sources.  Retain Incentive Measures to achieve better performance with regard to energy efficiency and/or renewable energies ;

         Require Buildings of Historical, Architectural or Cultural Importance to achieve a Minimum Building Energy Rating (BER) of ‘C1’ … indicating a Primary Energy Consumption less than or equal to 175 kWh/m2/yr.  Retain Incentive Measures to achieve better energy efficiency performance.  No legal requirements or incentives with regard to Renewable Energies should apply to Buildings of Historical, Architectural or Cultural Importance.

 

From the Beginning of 2015

         Require all New Buildings to be ‘Positive Energy Buildings’ (see below) ;

         Require all Existing Buildings to achieve a Minimum Building Energy Rating (BER) of ‘A2’ … indicating a Primary Energy Consumption less than or equal to 50 kWh/m2/yr.  And require a Positive Energy Contribution of 25 kWh/m2/yr to be from renewable Energy Systems installed in the building ;

         Require Buildings of Historical, Architectural or Cultural Importance to achieve  a Minimum Building Energy Rating (BER) of ‘B1’ … indicating a Primary Energy Consumption less than or equal to 100 kWh/m2/yr.  Retain Incentive Measures to achieve better energy efficiency performance.  No legal requirements or incentives with regard to Renewable Energies shall apply to Buildings of Historical, Architectural or Cultural Importance.

 

 

 

‘Effective’ Technical Control of Construction & Post-Occupation Buildings

 

Any proposed Building Energy Efficiency/Conservation and Renewable Energy Improvements must take place in a legal environment of stringent control during construction (by competent Local Authority Building Controllers and/or Independent Technical Controllers) and rigorous post-construction energy performance monitoring (using Long Wave Infra-Red Thermal Imagery, in conjunction with building roof and external wall Air Seepage Tests).  Observation of post-occupation building energy performance will also be necessary.  Introduce mandatory 5-Yearly Energy Surveying of Buildings.

 

 

 

The Paradigm for New Buildings – A ‘Positive Energy’ Return

 

Primary Energy Consumption is less than or equal to 15 kWh/m2/yr.  Renewable Energy & Heating Systems then contribute a reliable quantity of energy, per year, which covers the following:

         the Building’s Primary Energy Consumption ;

         an Energy Efficiency Degradation Factor which takes account of the degradation in energy efficiency normally expected during the life cycle of renewable energy and heating systems installed in the building (the rate of degradation will depend on the quality of maintenance and servicing) … and caused by wasteful patterns of building management and/or use ;

         the energy consumed by Private Transport associated with the building ;

         an Energy Return to an Intelligent District or Regional Grid exceeding, by a whole number multiple determined by reference to local conditions, the total energy consumed by the Building (including its Energy Efficiency Degradation Factor) and any associated Private Transport.

 

Uniquely, this more practical elaboration of the innovative concept of Positive Energy Buildings considers life cycle energy efficiency degradation.

 

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