How are the different parts of the world trying to reduce the energy consumption of domestic and commercial buildings? The Urethanes Technology International team takes a look at how different regions are approaching the issue.
The benefits of insulating a house are obvious. In the higher latitudes, they stay warmer for longer in the winter, while in lower latitudes, they stay cooler longer in the summer. An insulated house will leak expensive heat or cooling into the world around it more slowly. And polyurethane/PIR are some of the most cost-efficient insulating materials available to the construction industry.
But it can be hard for owner-occupiers of houses that were built some time ago to see the value in insulating their houses. This is despite systems such as the EU’s Energy Performance Certificates that allow homeowners to compare their house’s energy performance with their neighbours and similar houses in other parts of the EU.
For example, an 85m2 detached house in the UK with an energy performance certificate rating of F (between 21-38) could be brought up to the UK government’s target of a C rating (between 69-80) for somewhere between £7500 and £19,000.
The householder might take a look at the long list of suggested improvements, and decide not to bother installing a hot water cylinder thermostat, or room and TRV heating controls. They might leave the serviceable but inefficient old boiler in place, and decide against installing solar panels. Their capital outlay would be lower, but they’d also miss out on a lot of the potential improvements in the house’s energy efficiency.
But these are not the only suggestions that EPCs make. For a typical cost of £5000 to £15,000, the householder could install internal or external wall insulation, floor insulation, and improve the insulation around the hot water cylinder. With this combination of changes, the householder might be expected to save more than £500/year.
At the lower cost, if the work had been completed on 1 January 2020, the householder would break even on 5 November 2028. At the higher cost it would take until 28 December 2047 to break even. This long pay-back time can make it hard to persuade people that they should invest in insulation.
But there are strong environmental reasons for making the investment. If the loft and walls in our F-rated house were insulated to the recommended standards, the energy demand for heating the house would fall from 22.3 GWh/year to 9.6GWh/year. If we pretend that the house were completely heated using electricity from an average UK supplier, then the carbon footprint falls from 5.7 tonne CO2/year to 2.4 tonne CO2/year.
According to the EU, buildings are responsible for 40% of EU energy consumption, and 36% of its greenhouse gas emissions. The potential to upgrade energy performance of the bloc’s housing is considerable. About 35% of EU housing is more than 50 years old, while almost 75% is energy efficient. It’s clear that domestic housing represents a good opportunity to reduce the volume of carbon dioxide generated. But, according to the EU, only about 1% of the housing stock is renovated each year.
The EU has agreed that it will spend an extra EUR750m over the next seven years budget of EUR 1.1 trillion to help the countries which are suffering most from Coronavirus to recover. Arnaud Duvielguerbigny, general secretary of PU Europe, the trade association for rigid polyurethane and PIR foam makers, told Urethanes Technology International in a telephone interview that they want this money to be used to renovate building stock. ‘Of course, there is no way it will be labelled for PU but, at EU level, we are pressing for this money to be used for better insulated buildings,’ he said.
Member states will be able to access the pot of money if they have projects that meet the EU’s objectives. They will have until April next year to put their bids in. But, he added, while countries have considerable discretion on how to spend regeneration money, the EU has a very clear long-term objective for climate neutrality by 2050 for all of its members. PU Europe, alongside partners in Brussels such as the Renovate Europe Campaign, are pushing for national actions and funding to be activated now for decarbonising the EU’s building stock.
As the EU covers climate-diverse territory from Finland in the Arctic Circle and Malta in the Mediterranean, EU members have agreed that it is up to individual countries to determine how they will meet the standard. ‘A country could decide that it wants all of its buildings to be passive houses solely due to a highly energy performance building fabric/envelope for instance, Duvielguerbigny said.