The UK Green Building Council reports that approximately half of the UK’s carbon dioxide emissions is generated by the fossil fuels consumed in the construction, operation and maintenance of our buildings. It is a similar picture around the world too, with the global built environment responsible for around 35% of global energy consumption and contributing 30% of all greenhouse gas emissions.
It is clear that the construction industry needs to become a key player in the fight against climate change. And a good place to start is by applying the principles of Trias Energetica.
The Magic Number
Developed by the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands in 1979, the Trias Energetica model offers a logical, three-step guide for tackling energy sustainability in the building sector:
- First, reduce demand through energy efficiency measures and minimising energy waste.
- Then, supply as much of the demand as possible through renewable sources such as wind, water and solar energy.
- Finally, supply any remaining demand as responsibly as possible through the efficient production and use of fossil fuels.
Throughout the next couple of blogs in this series, we will be taking a closer look at each of these steps and how they can be applied effectively, beginning with reducing demand.
Following the Trias Energetica concept, the first step is to create a building envelope which reduces the amount of energy needed to heat or cool it, commonly known as taking a fabric first approach. Of course, a well-designed energy efficient building takes into consideration both fabric performance and the use of renewable energy. However, the starting point should always be improvements to the thermal performance of buildings, which will help to reduce demand in the first instance, and then keep delivering energy savings over the long-term with little or no maintenance. This can result in both long-term energy and building management costs being minimised.
The principle of taking a fabric-first approach is well recognised, whether you are refurbishing an existing building or constructing something new. A highly-insulated building envelope is created using high performance materials, with carefully constructed junctions to minimise air-leakage and therefore unnecessary heat loss. For fabric-first schemes to meet their potential, it is critical that they’re deployed as part of a holistic, quality-controlled package by qualified installers. Poor attention to areas such as the jointing, detailing and ventilation during the installation stage can undercut a building’s final fabric performance and energy waste-reduction.
Insulated panel systems, often also referred to as sandwich or composite panels, are an ideal solution for fabric first applications. The product combines a metal façade, insulation and waterproofing in a single panel which can be fixed directly to the structural frame. The systems offer excellent levels of thermal performance from a slim construction whilst the precision jointing can help to create highly airtight building contractions. They also have additional onsite benefits, especially where access to a site is limited. Issues such as site delivery, transport, storage, waste and project timescales can all be managed better, helping to cut overall costs. They often come with guarantee too, providing peace of mind.
Thinking long-term, by taking a fabric first approach for both new and existing buildings, developers and owners can essentially ‘futureproof’ their investments. The energy efficiency of a building with high fabric performance can be enhanced further later down the line through the implementation of improved building services, or the addition of renewable technologies.
Starting at Home
In 2011, Kingspan Group set out to become a Net Zero Company by 2020. In the words of our Building Technology Director, Mark Harris, this means “that our energy use is minimised through maximising energy efficiency measures, all energy consumed must come from renewable sources on an aggregated basis across the manufacturing estate, and as far as possible should be self-generated.” Whilst in the beginning it seemed a daunting task, we are well on track to achieve this goal, having already reduced our carbon intensity by 35% and energy costs by 23%.
How have we done this? By applying the Trias Energetica concept.
As manufacturers of high performance insulation and insulated building elements, we understand how to use a fabric-first approach to create extremely thermally efficient buildings (and where we can get the right materials for the job!). We’ve taken every opportunity we can to exploit this in-house expertise, both to upgrade our existing facilities and to inform the design of new ones.
We don’t just leave it there. From simply implementing a ‘lights off’ policy to undertaking surveys of air flows around buildings to identify where heating savings can be made, energy-efficiency saving opportunities in all aspects of our energy use are explored and employed where possible across all our sites.
Next week, we will take a closer look at renewable energy and how it can be used effectively on both new and existing buildings.