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Learn about Lego Loving Londoners visit to our bio-solar roof as part of the First LEGO League City Shaper engineering competition. Written by Elye.

I am part of a team of home-schooled teenagers competing in an engineering competition called First LEGO League. As part of the competition, teams are challenged to solve a world problem using engineering and innovation; this year, the theme is titled ‘City Shaper’. After brainstorming and researching ideas, we settled on a problem we wanted to solve: the problem of air-conditioning being used more and more as the climate warms, which contributes surprisingly significantly to global warming.

In fact, the number of air-conditioning units is expected to triple by 2050. Our solution is a way of adding a few simple methods of cooling down buildings to existing houses, including old Victorian flats that can be particularly vulnerable to extreme temperatures. For example, having cross ventilation and either closing curtains or, the more stylish way, installing awnings over windows to block the sun, have all been proven to effectively call down a building.

What does this have to do with Here East? Well, I haven’t yet mentioned one of the most important parts of our solution: bio-solar roofs. A month ago I wouldn’t have been able to tell you anything about bio-solar roofs, but now, after visiting Here East’s famous sustainable roof, a team of engineers from Here East, and the man who not only designed the roof, but one of the top experts in the country on green roofs, Dusty Gedge – now I can tell you all about them.

When researching green roofs as an obvious possible addition to our idea we came across the concept of bio-solar roofs. Simply put, this is a combination of green roofs and solar panels. Not only does this take the advantages of both ideas, e.g. sustainability, ‘free’ energy, cooler buildings, but they are stronger together. The plants create the ideal atmosphere for the solar panels to function! And what better way to research bio-solar roofs than to visit one in person?

We were really pleased when Here East agreed to meet us and take us around their roof. After giving us a warm welcome, we started the ascent to the top of the building. Interestingly, the first thing we saw when we went outside onto the roof itself was several large air-conditioners. This was one of the first things we asked Dusty, the man who designed the roof. He explained to us how, for a large building like Here East, full of activity and lots computers, it can get very hot, and no matter how much greenery you have on the top, air-conditioning is virtually a necessity.

However, the vast array of greenery and solar panels significantly reduced the number of air-conditioners needed. Dusty, who has a huge amount of experience in the green roof industry, explained how in houses, which is our focus, there is not nearly as much heat being generated. This means that, if cooling methods are optimised, it is possible to eliminate the need for air con in most houses in London.

Dusty gave us a very helpful perspective on our idea. For example, he told us that some houses, particularly old Victorian ones, wouldn’t be able to take the weight of a green roof and solar panels, so either one or the other might be the best option. He also pointed us in the direction of some interesting examples of green roofs, or even green walls, that have been successful in the past.

We had previously discounted the idea of green walls from our solution, because we thought it would be difficult to get planning permission for them in London. However, Dusty told us that in fact, councils are becoming much more amenable to living roofs and walls, having realised the many benefits. It’s not just the cooling advantages and being environmentally friendly; as we looked around Here East’s roof, we were told about the nine different species of rare wildlife that live on the roof, including unusual types of bees, beetles and moths.

Visiting Here East was a valuable experience, which has given us a lot to think about. Overall, one of the pieces of advice that stuck in my mind most was that there really isn’t a one size fits all solution. Buildings are all built differently, even if they don’t look like it. An adaptable solution is needed; one that has the capacity to be changed to fit the needs of each individual house, while providing a framework that can work for all. Many thanks to Here East for such a great opportunity!

Written by

Elye, Lego Loving Londoners

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