Vodacom aims for top green building rating with R24m green innovation centre

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    An artists impression of the Vodafone innovation centre in Midrand.

    Construction has started on the R24-million green innovation centre at Vodacom’s head office in Midrand, which would be the first building in South Africa to aim for a six-star rating under the Green Star South Africa certification scheme.
    UK-based parent company Vodafone chose to locate the green innovation centre in South Africa, from where staff would work on reducing carbon emissions across the group’s global operations.
    Completion was scheduled for the third quarter of 2011, and the construction team on site was Bantry Construction.
    “The innovation centre will be one of the most environmental-friendly buildings in the entire Vodafone group, powered with renewable energy using cooling and heating technologies. We are working with the Green Building Council of South Africa to ensure the building is accredited according to the Green Star rating system,” said Vodacom CEOPieter Uys at the sod-turning ceremony.
    The 350 m2 building contained many site-specific green elements, explained GLH & Associates Architects senior executive partner Xavier Huyberechts.
    WSP Green by Design sustainability consultant Alison Groves noted that every effort  to ensure that it consumed as little energy as possible had gone into the design phase of the building.
    WSP Green by Design director Eric Noir said that the building would have a solar photovoltaic (PV) installation, which would provide 100% of the building’s energy requirements.
    Rather than using batteries to store power, as they contain harmful chemicals, excess power generated by the PV system through the day would be supplied to the Vodacom service centre next to the innovation centre. At night, when the PV system was not generating and power requirements were lower, electricity would be drawn from the service centre.
    OneZero Consulting were the design engineers for the PV system and Solyndra PV cells would be used. OneZero Consulting engineer Vasili Kourelos said that the system would generate 50 kW at peak, and had a design capacity of about 250 kWh a day.
    The Solyndra cells are thin-film PV cells in the form of a tube, which means that they do not have to be angled as the sun moves. They also generate power off reflected light, thus the roof of the innovation centre will be painted white.
    A solar-thermal absorption chiller, designed and installed by Voltas, would provide for the building’s air conditioning needs.
    The building would also incorporate the relatively new concept of using a ‘rock store’ as a thermal mass, as well as making it a part of the foundation of the building. Because of the big difference in temperatures between day and night in the Highveld of South Africa, the rock store, which cools at night, could be used to pre-cool the building by using fans to extract air cooled by the rocks.
    Although used abroad, this was one of the first examples of using a rock store in South Africa.
    The building would also incorporate many standard green building elements such as solar water heaters, rain-water collectors, and a grey water system. Double glazing would be used for the glass façade of the building, and proper shading would be incorporated.
    Huyberechts said that the square building would house a central atrium, and services would run along the side of, and underneath the building.
    “Building sustainable, environmentally focused systems and infrastructure is critical in the current economic and environmental climate. Not only will the innovation centre help to deliver energy savings across the Vodafone group, but it will also save us money. Business can no longer look at sustainability as a nice-to-have element of operations – it is a critical aspect of our business strategy that adds enormous value to the bottom-line,” said Uys.
    He also noted that Vodacom, as one of the top-100 JSE-listed companies, took part in the Carbon Disclosure Project, and had a carbon footprint of about 400 000 t in 2010.
    “That’s a big number, and we need to do something about that,” he said, adding that the company had implemented a number of initiatives across operation, and in particular at the company’s base stations, where the target was to reduce energy consumption by 5% a year.

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