Living more in tune with the world also means renovating existing housing to make it less resource intensive, more energy efficient, more comfortable and more resistant to climate change. Institutions, politicians and companies - especially those in the construction sector - all have a key role to play in envisioning this transition, defining and applying new regulations and implementing solutions that will significantly cut energy costs. We meet with some of these stakeholders.
“Accelerating the pace of renovation is key to energy efficiency.”
“For the countries of the European Union, energy efficiency is a bigger challenge than ever, because it enables them simultaneously to reduce fuel poverty, improve the health and well-being of their people and make a significant contribution to cutting CO2 emissions. Which is why EuroACE was set up in 1998 by leading energy efficiency tech companies to work with the institutions of the EU on helping member states to implement a building energy efficiency policy. But in 2011, the relevant European directives applied only to new buildings, despite the fact that existing buildings were much bigger consumers of energy. So EuroAce launched its Renovate Europe political campaign with support from more than 45 industry and civil society organizations and 17 national partners. Its aim is to reduce the total energy demand of the entire EU building stock by 80% to a level compliant with the ‘nearly Zero-Energy Buildings’ (nZEB) standard between now and 2050 through ambitious programs of legislation and renovation. To date, only 1% of the building stock has been renovated per year, and only 12-14% of those renovations are motivated by a desire to reduce energy consumption, so the need to accelerate that pace is more than urgent.
The campaign is already paying off, since every Member State must now submit a long-term national renovation strategy for the transformation of its housing stock between now and 2050, with milestone targets for 2030 and 2040. National implementation of this European policy is proving rather slow, with only 13 countries having prepared their strategies to date, but at least we are moving in the right direction.
A few days ago, the European Commission launched its ‘Renovation Wave’ strategy to at least double annual home energy efficiency renovation rates over the next decade. At the same time, European Commission President of the European Commission Ursula Von Der Leyen called publicly for a new European Bauhaus - a space for co-creation in which architects, artists, students, engineers and designers would work together to achieve this goal. This sends a strong message, because it is also by working together that all construction industry stakeholders have the opportunity to take practical action on a massive scale to build more sustainable housing for our children.”
Energy renovation is therefore a key solution for sustainable housing. But how does this change strategies and markets for construction industry big hitters? And how can they play their part as pioneers and specifiers?
“We’re developing and testing materials that meet new environmental performance requirements.”
What are the challenges that can be met by energy renovation?
From the environmental prospective, energy renovation reduces the consumption of an existing building as a result of better insulation, thereby reducing its energy consumption and related carbon emissions. Renovating rather than building from new also means reducing land take and ensuring a better balance in urban ecosystems. Secondly, it’s a value-creating sector, which, as it develops, becomes a significant creator of local jobs. Lastly, energy renovation facilitates the physical well-being of building occupants, and contributes at a number of different levels to reducing fuel poverty and boosting spending power.
So how does this impact on Saint-Gobain corporate strategy?
Saint-Gobain manufactures and distributes insulation (glass wool or wood-based), glazing, architectural glass and low-energy heat pumps. This diversity of skills and expertise gives us a global overview of the energy renovation market. We are now combining these solutions to offer integrated solutions that meet specific challenges in markets, such as schools and hospitals. In terms of R&D and innovation, we develop and test materials that comply with new environmental performance requirements: these low-carbon materials are composed largely of recycled or biosourced waste (wood fiber, cork, etc.). We also conduct studies to demonstrate and measure the performances delivered by these new solutions.
How can the Group act as a specifier for its partners and customers?
We believe that we have a duty to lead the move towards energy renovation projects. So we implement initiatives that explain and promote these new solutions to partners such as architects and design teams. We’re also helping to upskill the workforce by introducing a plan that will train 10,000 tradespeople via our Point.P outlets over two years. Our La Maison Saint-Gobain program showcases the latest trends, the type of work eligible for government subsidies and tradespeople approved and accredited to carry out this work. Internally, we’ve introduced an employee skills volunteering program, which will provide funding for 1,000 energy renovation projects to be carried out by our employees in France. All these initiatives are guided by the same deeply held conviction: “Making the world a more beautiful and sustainable common home” begins with developing materials that make our homes and offices healthier, more comfortable and more resource efficient.
In practice, energy renovation projects present multiple challenges at each stage of projects designed to adapt and upgrade older buildings to meet today’s construction standards. The architects who develop new strategies are central to this process.
THEY DID IT
“The first energy positive commercial building in Brazil, RB12 was a groundbreaking energy renovation project.”
What was it that originally sparked this project?
RB12 is an office building in the Rio Branco neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro. Everything was coming together to favor innovation: investors had their eye on Brazil, Rio de Janeiro was a desirable city to be in, and the nearby Porto Maravilha neighborhood was really beginning to take off. The challenge we undertook with sustainable real estate construction company Natekko was to give this building a second life by applying an eco-friendly renovation process that involves adapting and upgrading old buildings to meet today's sustainable construction requirements. It focuses on envelopes and systems (i.e. energy generation and cost) to move everything towards low energy consumption.
So which solutions did you apply to the building envelope for this renovation project?
Vertical, narrow and dating from the 60s, the existing building certainly didn’t meet today’s construction requirements. So renovating it demanded a number of innovative solutions. Working closely with building designers Front NYC, we designed a new protective envelope. The specification was to control the effects of backlighting so that we could work with clear glazing on one exposed face of the building. Paradoxically, the high sunlight levels in Rio makes buildings quite dark inside, and working without the lights turned on is a rare occurrence. So RB12 gained a refractive bioclimatic glazed facade. To design it, we conducted an hour-by-hour study of sunshine levels and shading relative to the surrounding buildings, and designed a bespoke system of sun breakers. These light-reflecting reflectors also reflect heat, which in turn reduces energy consumption.
How does passive energy contribute to reducing energy bills?
The photovoltaic panels installed on the side of the building allow RB12 to generate enough energy to power its own day-to-day operation. The building is now five years old, and was a major innovation in energy management here in Brazil. Since then, we’ve worked on a number of similar projects. Architects - and, more broadly, the entire construction industry - have now begun to incorporate the carbon expenditure reduction achieved as a result of our activities as a new and groundbreaking challenge. This will also demand new solutions and new compromises in the way we design and build architectural projects.
Sustainable construction must reconcile two major challenges: redesign and the preferential use of materials specifically designed to be more resilient, stronger, more comfortable and more resource efficient.