Anticipating the European Climate Law with Smart Glass

Smart glass can help architects to cut carbon emissions by reducing heating and cooling costs in buildings, thus complying with the proposed new European Climate Law.

The Climate Crisis

There was a time when smart glass building facades were considered a luxury, a nice-to-have. 

Not any longer. 

With the Greta Thunberg inspired (and United Nations backed) pivot from ‘climate change’ to ‘climate crisis’, the only way to convert Europe into ‘the first climate-neutral continent’ (as mandated by the EU’s Green Deal) is with a step-change in thinking. 

‘Climate crisis’ seems like an overstatement to some until we consider recent global weather extremes, natural disasters and water security threats. It becomes apparent that ‘Business As Usual’ is simply not good enough.

Hence the importance of the European Commission’s proposal in March 2020 for a new European Climate Law to implement the EU’s Green Deal and make Europe’s economy climate-neutral by 2050.

Climate (Carbon) Neutrality

A climate-neutral (or carbon-neutral) economy offsets carbon emissions with carbon removal. 

Emissions come from carbon-based fuels, whereas carbon removal stems either from carbon-capture technologies, or by planting new forests.

Industries which are traditionally carbon-intensive include the aviation sector and of course the construction industry.

A Greener Model for Construction

With buildings accounting for ‘40% of EU energy consumption and 36% of CO2 emissions’ (source: Eurostat 2019), the EU has realised that buildings are the single largest energy consumer. 

Furthermore, ‘almost 50% of the EU’s energy consumption is used for heating and cooling, and 80% of this comes from buildings’. Approximately 75% of the building stock in the EU is energy-inefficient and currently only 1% of the building stock is renovated each year. 

There is clearly an opportunity here to formulate a more efficient strategy against the climate crisis. 

If only there was a way to reduce this energy waste and manage building energy footprints more efficiently.

Enter Smart Glass Technologies

All smart glass technologies have one thing in common: to better manage solar radiation.

They have been used sporadically for the past 30 years and have yet to make a significant impact on improving energy efficiency globally. Sometimes this is due to their high price and sometimes due to a lack of awareness of the benefits they can bring. This is one of the reasons we created SmartGlassWorld.

Smart glass can selectively filter, scatter, reflect, absorb or transmit the solar energy received by a building according to its changing needs, both throughout the day and seasonally. 

By ‘smart glass’, we are referring to technologies such as SPD, liquid crystal smart glasses (including Merck eyrise), electrochromic, thermochromic, photochromic, transparent photovoltaics integrated into glass facades and translucent concrete, amongst many others. Look in the Tech section of our website for more.

These technologies manage not just visible light and ultraviolet but also infrared, which represents 50% of the solar radiation incident on the Earth, and which is to blame every time we fight over the thermostat in an overbaked office.

So, how can governments carve out an industrial strategy that facilitates a roadmap to manage energy more effectively in buildings?

The Energy Performance of Buildings Directive

The Energy Performance of Buildings Directive from the European Union requires all new buildings to be ‘nearly zero-energy buildings’ (NZEB) by the end of 2020 and mandates the use of renewable energy sources to achieve this.

New public buildings, in fact, needed to be compliant as of 31 December 2018.

The Energy Performance of Buildings Directive was first adopted in 2002, and revised in 2018 to accelerate building renovation and deliver smarter, more energy-efficient buildings that take advantage of technological innovations. 

Furthermore in March 2020, the EU proposed a new European Climate Law, which aims to make Europe climate-neutral by 2050, through ‘zero net emissions of greenhouse gases’ and where ‘economic growth is decoupled from resource use’. 

Some, such as the Climate Action Network Europe, are calling for this target to be met by 2040 in order to keep global temperatures under 1.5ºC.

When we consider that the construction industry generates 9% of Europe’s GDP and accounts for 18 million direct jobs, we can see a large economic (and political) incentive for change.

Additionally, the EU aims to provide financial support to help individuals, businesses and regions to move towards a greener economy, with incentives to the tune of €100 billion earmarked over the period 2021-2027.

These changes are all part of the Clean energy for all Europeans package, which delivers on the Paris Agreement commitments for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The Smart Glass Market

What does the smart glass industry need to do to facilitate this change? 

In our opinion, the industry needs to come together to ease the transition for a greener construction sector:-

  • Investing in volume manufacturing, such as the initiative undertaken by Gauzy, a licensee of Research Frontiers Inc., who have built a new factory in Germany with capacity for over one million square meters of SPD film per year, with extended widths of 1.8m, ideal for the architectural and automotive sectors.
  • Lowering prices and streamlining the supply chain, as VariGuard (another licensee of Research Frontiers Inc.) are bravely doing in the SPD smart glass market, through on-boarding key smart glass suppliers worldwide.
  • Improving technical issues in smart glass such as cleaner filtering, faster switching and reduced haze. Examples include the research being done by Merck Eyrise and Vision Systems.

Above all, realising that we are in this together, so that when one client decides to use one smart glass technology over another, this benefits all of us, because market awareness increases, and the pie grows bigger. Which means that everyone’s percentage share grows also.

Conclusions

All these trends point to a potential ‘golden era’ where we can finally design truly energy-efficient and sustainable buildings, making use of technologies such as smart glass wherever it makes sense.

Smart glass technologies have the ability to reduce glare, reduce air conditioning costs, improve privacy and worker productivity, reduce patient recovery times in hospitals and drive the sector towards a greener and brighter future.

We have inherited, in the words of Louis Armstrong, a Wonderful World. Let’s keep it that way.

References

  • “Energy performance of buildings directive”, European Commission, URL.
  • “Clean energy for all Europeans package”, European Commission, URL.
  • “A European Green Deal”, European Commission, URL.
  • “European Climate Law”, European Commission, URL.