An Olympian challenge: How do we address retrofitting non-domestic buildings?

The posts on our blog have covered many important topics, but none are more pressing than the issues around the energy efficiency of our buildings. Here Lara Tarasewicz, one of our MSc students, discusses her work looking at retrofitting energy efficiency measures to a very new building, the Aquatics Centre at London’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.

The competition swimming pools at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park Aquatics Centre. Copyright Lara Tarasewicz
The competition swimming pools at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park Aquatics Centre. Copyright Lara Tarasewicz

Buildings may blend in as part of the fabric of everyday life, but their operational energy use – heat and electricity – has a vital role in climate change mitigation.

Within this project, I will be looking at how evaluation and installation of energy efficiency measures can be facilitated in non-domestic buildings (such as schools, hospitals, offices and leisure centres), using the Aquatics Centre at London’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park as a case study.

Emissions for a building can be divided into two main areas of focus:

  1. Supply
    • At power supply grid level, the source of generation varies, (see figure 1). To reduce emissions, low carbon power generation sources are preferable, such as favouring gas turbines over coal power stations
    • This project will focus mainly on the demand side, so the study will be carried out under set supply scenarios
  2. Demand
  • At the building, measures can be taken to install physical retrofits, such as double glazing or loft insulation, which can reduce the amount of energy required
  • By managing demand, consumers are encouraged to reduce the amount of energy they consume and also change their pattern of energy usage

Figure 1. Variation in fuels used for UK electricity generation over time. (Energy Trends March 2016[PDF] , DECC, p43)
Figure 1. Variation in fuels used for UK electricity generation over time. (Energy Trends March 2016[PDF] , DECC, p43)
Around 50% of all UK carbon emissions can be attributed to buildings, (Key Statistics: Construction industry and carbon emissions [PDF] by UK Green Building Council) and it is predicted that 87% of existing buildings will still be with us in 2050, (Climate Change Adaptation [PDF] by UK Green Building Council). Changes at grid level are likely to happen and influencing these may or may not be within the control of the building occupant. Onsite, demand side management and physical retrofitting measures are crucial, especially since many buildings already constructed use energy inefficiently.

In connection with the Paris COP21 Climate negotiations, the UN organised a Buildings’ Day on 3 Dec 2015, following which the World Green Building Council pledged collectively that:

To play its part in limiting global temperature increase to 2 degrees Celsius, the (building) sector must reduce its emissions by a total of 84 Gt CO2 by 2050.” – World Green Building Council Commitment for COP21 PDF
In recent years, despite various efforts, few building operators have opted to install retrofits and a key element of my work will be to understand why this happening, focussing on human-related barriers and challenges, as well as look at possible solutions.

Overall, this research will centre around:

  • Ways of improving and modelling energy efficiency of a building
  • Methodologies to evaluate physical retrofitting measures economically and for emissions
  • Social barriers to and challenges for technology uptake, plus exploring solutions

The aim of this project is to develop a novel methodology, focussing on the influence of socio-technical interaction on improving technology popularity, as well as key performance indicators of cost and carbon emissions, (CO­2e). It is envisioned that this could be used as a toolkit, ideally in conjunction with a thermodynamic appraisal of the building, to aid and encourage businesses and non-domestic building owners to implement energy-saving retrofitting measures, to spend less on energy bills and ultimately reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Lara TarasewiczLara is carrying out her research under the Climate-KIC project Smart Sustainable Districts. She is working with representatives from the Olympic Park, London Legacy Development Corporation and Engie, along with supervisors from Imperial College London (Dr Christoph Mazur and Dr Koen van Dam). Further collaboration is also welcome.

If you wish to get in touch, Lara can be contacted via email at

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