Future Works Changes Everything

We are Sheffield School of Architecture, MArch Studio Future Works 2015-2016, looking at energy, industry and manufacturing. Over the next six months we will be designing, both collectively and individually for the future of this region. This initial stage of our project has taken our team to several existing factory precedents and allowed us to observe a variety of industrial processes. The studio’s main driver is to explore the typology of ‘Future Factories’ with a particular focus on energy.

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The pie charts on the right indicate the current energy situation in the UK.

The majority of energy is currently provided by non-renewable sources. 30% is sourced from coal and 30% from gas. A further 19% is produced from nuclear energy power plants with a further 4 additional plants planned for completion in the near future. At present 19% is supplied by renewable sources.

By 2050 we would love to see this ratio flipped on its head with 60% of energy coming from renewable sources. However we appreciate that the phasing of energy takes a long time…

In order to better understand this, as a group we have explored the history of how energy has been produced over a time, but on a much smaller scale in and around Sheffield where our sites are located. This is illustrated by the diagram on the left.

One of the first methods of generating power in Sheffield was the watermill. The Shepherd Wheel is one of the earliest examples dating back to 1584. Waterwheels were used to power machinery for mechanical processes such as milling, rolling or hammering. Each waterwheel would power their own processes on their own site using the natural source of the river, making factories self sufficient. In 1818 the first gasworks was opened in Sheffield, sparking the beginning of non-renewable sources being used to generate energy. The gasworks operated on a local scale, powering street lamps and nearby industry.

In 1886, a pioneering engineer created his own small power station in his repair shop in the centre of the city. He not only powered his own premises, but used excess energy to power the jewellers shop display window next door. By 1904 the scale had grown and the first power station was opened in Sheffield. It was located in Neepsend next to the river for cooling and the railway line for access. Again the power station operated on a small scale supplying the local area. In 1934, Sheffield was connected to what is now known as the National Grid. For the first time, the cities’ energy could be sourced from anywhere within the UK. Power was now being operated on a national scale. 1956 saw Margaret Thatcher open the UK’s first Nuclear Power Plant. As Sheffield is now connected nationally, the city could be receiving power from Nuclear sources.

The 90s saw a development in technology that meant renewable sources were now efficient enough to start supplying the UK with energy. The first renewable source in the region was the hydroelectric system used to power the Masson Mills site in Matlock Bath. Any surplus energy from this is fed into the National Grid but there is no guarantee that it supplies Sheffield. We are now starting to see a more local, renewable trend returning to the way power is supplied.

So by 2050 we envision a complete return to a more localised power supply in Sheffield. We believe we should have a more personal, collaborative relationship with energy just like the engineer and the next-door jewellers shop.

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Energy used to be noisy and in your face. Workers used to return from the coalmines covered in soot, factories were loud and smoke used to bellow from the chimneys. We do not anticipate a return to this polluted, non-renewable scenario but we believe that energy should return to being vibrant and ever-present to increase our awareness of supply and consumption.

Our group would like to develop a concept that draws upon history and reinvents the perception of energy, giving it a greater presence within the modern and future society. We are phrasing this as ‘How can we make energy more ‘noisy’?’ in order to alter the perception of energy as an abundant amenity.

This also forms our future ‘scenario’ in which all future energy usage is monitored and controlled by the community. This requires us to explore methods in which we can make energy usage in the built environment more visible and therefore make society more conscious about energy usage. A key aim in our group scheme will be to raise awareness of renewable energy sources throughout the community via ‘Energy Installations’ within the city and Education Programmes for local schools and communities. Raising this awareness is something, which can be implemented instantly. Future Scenario: Sheffield energy strategy becomes an exemplar for the rest of the UK.

By exploring past, existing and future sources of energy we aim to devise a strategy for energy at City scale (Sheffield). By dividing up the Existing National Grid System into a network of connected Microgrids each area can produce their own energy and share energy between different areas.

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As a studio we want to look at ways of diversifying our energy sources. Bringing it to a local level can give greater flexibility, efficiency and resilience to our energy supply. Also, with advancements in technology, we are moving to a future that can be far more reliant on renewable & green energy sources. Through a crowd-sourced platform, energy in Sheffield can be distributed efficiently.

  • Managed by a not-for-profit Co-operative energy Bank (battery).
  • Incorporates a mixture of energy sources, which utilise the abundant natural resources specific to the geographical area. (Sheffield, for example historically powered much of its industrial processes using water power, can this be re-utilised with modern technologies/methods of energy generation?)
  • Community Energy Schemes that supply local neighbourhood with clean energy
  • Retrofitting existing neighbourhoods to improve their environmental performance
  • Improving Transport Systems with electric drive technologies.
  • Investing in Research for developments in technology.
  • The microgrids are supported by a few select power stations using cleaner energy methods, such as nuclear and natural gas.
  • Within the microgrid energy is shared to improve efficiency as energy is stored for later use and low demand activities such as charging car batteries and water heating can be done during off peak periods.
  • As resource availability fluctuates between regions, the microgrids eliminate any energy gaps/deficits with cross connections on a national level (national)  this also allows for seasonal fluctuations to be mitigated.

The group is looking into the possibility of each member adopting different elements of this strategy, allowing everyone’s project to be interconnected to form a ‘masterplan’. This will present opportunities for collaboration within the group and will sustain our focus. Schemes are to be considered across varying scales from singular buildings to regional, national and international interventions.

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The topic of energy is a big one, and we will undoubtedly come across some challenges particularly concerning the scope of our projects. How energy is stored efficiently and how it is transported to the areas in which it is needed will also be fundamental to all of our projects. Changing policy and the outcomes of the COP21 UN Climate Change Conference in Paris will also impact our studio.

Collectively we will work to make energy noisy.

With thanks to Studio Future Works 2015-2016 for writing this post. It was first presented for ‘This Changes Everything: Building Something Radically Different Together’, hosted by Professor Irena Bauman

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