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NATURE’S ARCHITECTURE
One of the most sustainable buildings in the world recently opened at the Eden Project in Cornwall.

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The new education and research facility, named The Core, is a superb example of sustainability utilising building integrated photovoltaics (PV). Described by Tim Smit, Eden CEO as ‘the finest modern building in the world’, the building’s architecture follows the Fibonacci series; a unique pattern at the heart of nature that generates, for example, the spirals in snail’s shells or the pattern of seeds in the head of a sunflower. Solar PV (photovoltaics) panels convert light directly into electricity. They have no moving parts, are silent and emission-free in operation.

Within this geometrically complex roof structure, solarcentury has incorporated solar panels. In order to integrate the photovoltaics into the building’s unique form, the panels were intricately faceted over a bespoke mounting structure constructed from a spiral of steel tubes. When viewed from above the panels spiral outward in a ring around the heart of the building, forming the shape of a flower with 11 individual petals.

At the centre of The Core, the PV panels descend to a solar terrace, encircled by bespoke solar glass-glass laminates that outline the centre of the flower. The glass-glass laminates, mounted using bolt-through fittings, provide a canopy to protect the building’s exterior timber helping to offset the costs of regular building materials.

Dan Davies, director of engineering, explained some of the problems solarcentury overcame during the construction project: “The Core’s orientation was not ideal for solar energy generation due to partially north facing roof angles and potential shading problems from surrounding roof lights. To maximise generation we optimised the system’s electrical design to improve the performance of the array, in addition to careful inverter selection and PV module interconnection.”

The Core has taken two years to construct at a cost of £15 million. Major sponsors included the Millennium Commission Lottery, South West Regional Development Agency, European Regional Development Fund, via Objective One.

Despite the challenge of The Core’s intricate design, the PV was fully installed within the projects build programme. The system was connected to the grid in mid August 2005 and by mid September, the PV system had generated over 5000kWh of energy, enough electricity to power two three bedroom homes for an entire year. Over two tonnes of CO2 emissions were prevented from entering the environment in this month alone.

Sir Nicholas Grimshaw, the project’s architect is enthusiastic about the building’s future: “It is a very green building and one conducive to learning for both adults and children. If every building was designed like this, the world would be a better place.”

Jeremy Leggett, solarcentury CEO, said: “The Core demonstrates that solar energy can be incorporated into virtually any building to provide renewable energy and help reduce carbon emissions. Educating young people in the benefits of solar and other renewables is key to achieving a truly sustainable future.”

It is estimated that the system will generate 20,000kWh each year, enough electricity each year to light an average three-bedroom house for over 33 years. This will save over nine tonnes of CO2 annually, which would take 12 trees 100 years to remove from the environment.  CT-E

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