The building industry is undergoing a slow but steady change – adapting to new technologies and complying with increasing demands from public opinion as well as legislators. With regard to the latter, there is little doubt that common European goals are an effective tool to further this change and to achieve the results and improvements needed. An example hereof, is the EPBD (Energy Performance of Buildings Directive) from 2010, which has contributed to the reduction of energy consumption and CO2-emissions in buildings across the EU nations.
When innovation and regulation go hand-in-hand
These common goals and drivers are of paramount importance to SMEs as it makes innovation economically viable and motivates us to develop, mature and launch new technologies and solutions, which could otherwise have proven difficult to succeed with – especially in an industry which is largely defined by tradition and only adapts new solutions slowly.
An example of SMEs penetrating markets and achieving success based on the need for improved sustainability in buildings is the company I founded called MicroShade. We have developed a passive solar shading technology, consisting of a micro structured membrane, which is placed inside the layers of an insulated glazing. While the view to the outside is maintained, it reflects and absorbs up to 90% of solar irradiation - and as such reduces the need for cooling. A welcomed side effect is, that it also increases the amount of usable floor space in the building since the shading makes it possible to place desks right next to the façade.
Although new technologies can contribute with considerable savings in terms of energy consumption and long-term total cost of ownership, the fact that the solution is new often makes contractors choose solutions that they are used to. However, when common requirements are introduced and existing solutions cannot deliver on them - it changes the landscape for new technology, as is the case for MicroShade. This is why a firm driver like the EBPD helps further technological advancement in the construction industry, benefitting not only the energy consumption in European buildings, but also making it possible to develop solutions, products and businesses that will thrive inside as well as outside European borders.
Remember the people inside
At MicroShade we are great supporters of saving energy and CO2 emission. However, we believe that the steps to reduce energy consumption in buildings should be taken with due consideration of other parameters that are important to the function and performance of a building. In this respect, the indoor climate is particularly essential as the primary goal of construction is to protect and enhance the value of the activity that takes place inside the building. Elements such as daylight, temperature levels, a view to the outside and air quality are all of paramount importance to the well-being of the people working there.
This is where innovative solutions such as MicroShade can help bridge that gap which occurs if we single-mindedly pursue the reduction of energy consumption. Such pursuits all too often end up negatively impacting other important factors – which then have to be dealt with at a later stage – again, to the detriment not only to the people inside but also to the overall economics of the building.
That is why we at MicroShade try to promote a more holistic approach to how to combine solutions optimally in a building. To that end, we have developed a process supporting our sales, which can help decision-makers make an informed choice of the effect of façade solutions on indoor climate parameters such as temperature, daylight levels, view to the outside and air quality. When all elements in the construction of e.g. an office environment is taken into consideration, it is possible to make decisions in support of the well-being of people and as a result hereof, their productivity at work.
A ‘schoolbook’ example
Recent research in Danish schools(1) showed that air quality all too often did not meet requirements. This is a problem for the children's learning ability and concentration in schools as well as for society's future in a broader perspective.
A holistic approach to the façade and building renovation of a school in Solbjerg in Aarhus, Denmark created added benefits by improving the indoor climate, which is critical for children as they are still developing. Studies had even shown that children can miss the equivalent of more than one educational school year because of a bad indoor climate, so it was important that the renovation did not impact this negatively. So, in the renovation of the façades, the energy consumption was reduced significantly and an improved indoor climate was achieved by a controlled intake of natural ventilation and by installing glazing with MicroShade.
The additional cost of these improvement measures were soon overshadowed by the positive effect of the renovation, as the grade point average of the pupils improved by 20 percent while sickness absence declined from 5.1 percent to only 2.6 percent (significantly lower than national average).
Do the math
If a holistic approach to energy savings and indoor climate improvements can affect the well-being and productivity of children in a school – then the assumption that it can do the same for adults at their workplace is not far-fetched. Try to imagine the effect of increasing the productivity of the office environment that you are in with just 1 to 2%? We believe that that the numbers would speak for themselves. Investigating further down this path and adjusting requirements accordingly would likely be a benefit for all countries in which they were to be adopted.
And if common goals and building requirements in the EU cannot only reduce energy consumption but at the same time fuel innovation, which in turn improves the well-being and productivity of our workforce – then the benefit is we have come a long way as companies, industries and as a common market.
To us, the success of the EBPD demonstrates the enormous effect of having a shared vision and setting targets that in short time will drive significant changes to our buildings and to the industry as a whole. We think the important learning is that while the process of getting towards such a shared vision is naturally complex, turbulent and lengthy, it clearly is worth the effort, and we hope that in the future it will be possible to extend the pan-European vision for our buildings to also include other important parameters than energy consumption.
1) Study by civil engineer Alice Andersen, specialist in indoor climate, energy and sustainability , Cowi A/S