The building sector accounts for approximately 40% of all energy consumption in the US and in the EU.
For this reason, the United States Congress took steps in 2021 to bring forth legislation that proposes smart glass to tackle this issue, with US congressman Steven Horsford introducing the ‘Dynamic Glass Act’.
The problem with this act is that it refers only to ‘electrochromic glass’, which begs the question why government legislation would hand-pick one of the many smart glass technologies available today (never mind those that may be available in future).
As Crown Electrokinetics eloquently stated in their blog article of 2021, “it would be like Congress giving Tesla a licence to be the sole producer of electric vehicles”.
We strongly believe that legislation should be technology-neutral, focussing instead on the requirements, which might include ‘maximising daylight in buildings’ or ‘reducing heating and cooling costs’, to name a few examples.
In fact, legislation could just point to the excellent Green Building programs, such as LEED, BREEAM or WELL, where most of that requirements specification work has already been done.
Mandating technologies is not the same as recommending solutions though, and in some cases, where the industry needs concrete answers, it can be beneficial to offer education, so that architects and building professionals can see what is available.
In this context, legislation could suggest the use of passive smart glass (e.g. thermochromic or photochromic glass), active smart glass (e.g. SPD, PDLC, electrochromic glass), translucent concrete or rooftop solar collectors (that pipe daylight into dim build interiors via optical fibres).
All these solutions would facilitate better control over natural daylight in buildings than curtains or manual window blinds.
Some of these technologies can even be combined, multiplying the benefits, with one example being to combine translucent concrete with smart glass, allowing you to ‘switch off the wall’ on demand. This could be useful for theatres or museums, for example.
In short, we need legislation that states the problem in technology-neutral terms and is inclusive of all possible solutions.
European Green Deal
Enter the European Green Deal, introduced by the European Commission in December 2019, which aims “to transform the EU into a climate-neutral continent with a resource-efficient and competitive economy”, ensuring:-
- no net emissions of greenhouse gases by 2050
- economic growth decoupled from resource use
- no person and no place left behind
The relevant EU legislation underpinning the European Green Deal includes the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (2010/31/EU, amended by 2018/844/EU) and the Energy Efficiency Directive (2012/27/EU, amended by 2018/2002).
One of the priorities of the European Green Deal is the Green Buildings initiative, which aims to reduce the 36% of greenhouse gas emissions which originate from buildings in the EU.
This initiative includes:-
- Renovation Wave: an action plan to boost building renovation in the EU
- BUILD UP: a European portal for energy efficiency in buildings
- EU Building Stock Observatory: a web tool to monitor the energy performance of buildings across Europe
- Nearly zero-energy buildings: a proposal to move from ‘nearly zero-energy buildings’ (NZEB) to ‘zero-emission buildings’ (ZEB) by 2030.
In December 2021, the European Commission proposed further changes to:-
- achieve a fully decarbonised building stock by 2050
- support better air quality in buildings
- digital energy systems for buildings (such as building automation systems)
- new infrastructure for sustainable mobility (such as requirements for car parks)
- targeted financing to fight energy poverty.
The good news is that, since these energy performance mandates came into force in national building codes, buildings in the EU now consume only half as much energy, as when compared to buildings from the 1980s.
We seem to be going in the right direction, would you agree?
European Climate Pact
The measures proposed by the European Green Deal do not stop at buildings, but also include social measures.
The European Climate Pact is a “movement of people united around a common cause”, and is open to anyone passionate about climate change.
Above all, those who can actively turn their passion into actions are invited to apply to become European Climate Pact Ambassadors, who are “Europeans from different walks of life, all committed to climate action”.
We believe this is a useful public, peer-to-peer service, capable of offering education, consultancy and objective advice, vetted by the European Union, and serves as a low-cost, first-stop public resource for architects, designers and engineers.
A corporate version of this would be the NBS, part of RIBA Enterprises, the knowledge management company of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA).
The NBS is a fantastic resource which we highly recommend, but pricing does tend to favour larger companies with deep marketing budgets.
EU Dynamic Glass Act
The smart glass family of technologies is so broad that it would make sense for the EU to sanction their use in some shape or form.
Whether this should be via an EU Regulation, Directive, Decision, Recommendation or Opinion is up to them to decide. Here is a summary of what each of these legal acts aims to achieve:
- a binding legislative act
- must be applied across the entire EU
- E.g. EU Regulation 2015/478 for common safeguards on goods imported from outside the EU
- sets out legally binding goals for all EU countries
- each country must devise their own laws however on how to reach these goals
- E.g. EU consumer rights directive, which eliminates hidden charges on the internet, and extends the period under which consumers can withdraw from a sales contract
- legally binding
- applies to an EU country or an individual company
- E.g. the EU participating in the work of various counter-terrorism organisations
- not legally binding
- allows EU institutions to make their views known or to suggest a line of action without imposing legal obligations
- E.g. improving use of videoconferencing to help judicial services work better across borders
- non-binding legal instrument
- E.g. opinion on the clean air policy package for Europe
The US Dynamic Glass Act of 2021 has, in our opinion, made the fatal flaw of specifying one specific technology at the expense of other potentially better ones in the form of binding legislation.
The US system can be (and often is) easily tipped in favour of government lobbyists, making the playing field uneven and unfair.
Of course, it is not the job of government agencies to choose your vendor (heaven forbid).
What is needed is legislation that promotes, recommends and educates us all so that the building profession can see which available solutions might best fit the requirements of their project.