Building better in Ireland: Exploring nearly zero-energy building retrofit technologies
30 June 2015
Author: Dr Jamie Goggins, a senior lecturer at NUIG and chartered engineer, has worked as a consulting engineer in Ireland and the UK on a variety of local, national and international projects
People spend approximately 90 per cent of their lives indoors. Thus, it is very important to maintain safe, healthy and comfortable living conditions in buildings. However, it is now widely acknowledged that a substantial proportion of energy is required to maintain these conditions in buildings. About 40 per cent of the world’s energy consumption and approximately a third of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are associated with buildings.
It is now largely recognised in the academic and business worlds that energy efficiency in buildings provides significant environmental and economic challenges/opportunities. The building sector offers considerable opportunities to reduce Europe’s energy consumption and carbon emissions.
Low efficiency levels of older building stock and need for retrofitting
With the percentage of new buildings representing one per cent of the total building stock and the low efficiency levels of the older building stock, retrofitting is recognised as the most immediate, pressing, and cost-effective mechanism to reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions in the building and construction sector.
It is necessary to double or triple the current retrofitting rate to reach EU short- and long-term energy reduction goals. However, given the age, diversity and size of the Irish and EU building stock – and the economic variables associated – retrofitting to meet sustainability targets on time represents a big challenge.
In the European Union (EU), the improvement of building sector’s energy efficiency is among the main priorities of the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) introduced through the legislation in 2002 and 2010 (recast). This legislation tightens the energy performance standard requirements of the European building stock with the aim of reducing the gap between the practices in the EU member states.
The recast directive requires that all new buildings and existing buildings that receive significant renovations are nearly zero energy buildings (NZEB) by the end of 2020 – a mere five years away. All public buildings are required to be NZEB by the end of 2018.
The recast directive defined an NZEB building as a building that has a very high energy performance. The nearly zero or low amount of energy required should be covered to a very significant extent by energy from renewable resources, including those produced on site or nearby.
Further improvements in the energy efficiency of the European building sector include the 2007 EU ‘20-20-20’ initiative. This initiative requires member states to cut their emissions, source their power requirements from renewables and improve energy efficiency by 20 per cent from 1990 levels by 2020. Thus, EU legislation stipulates a significant amount of work to be done on the building stock in order to meet these targets.
The EU is committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 80 to 95 per cent below 1990 levels by 2050. As the percentage of new buildings relative to existing buildings is increasing at a rate of only one per cent per year and a significant proportion of the old buildings stock will still be standing in the future, retrofitting is recognised as the most immediate, pressing and cost effective mechanism to reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions in the building and construction sector.
It is necessary to double or triple the current retrofitting rate of 1.2 to 1.4 per cent per annum in order to reach the EU short and long term goals for energy and carbon reductions.
New regulations and 40% improvement in performance standards over 2008
Last year, the Irish government published the ‘National Energy Efficiency Action Plan 2014’ with targets for energy savings to 2020. Buildings represent the biggest single sector for potential energy savings and for this reason, a large portion of our 2020 energy savings (10,379GWh) is anticipated to come from this sector. New regulations are due to be published shortly, resulting in a minimum improvement of 40 per cent in performance standards over 2008 requirements.
Conversely, as the percentage of new buildings relative to existing buildings is increasing at a rate of approximately one per cent per year across Europe, retrofitting is recognised as the most immediate, pressing and cost effective mechanism to reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions in the building and construction sector.
A study is undertaken by the researchers of Informatics Research Unit for Sustainable Engineering (IRUSE) at NUI Galway to understand the current situation of energy efficient retrofits of the existing building stock in Ireland.
This research will be guided through the experiences of the construction Industry professionals and will lead to innovations of technologies and solutions for the retrofit in achieving near zero- energy buildings. In the next six months, it is planned to publish/disseminate the results of this study that focus on existing retrofit practices based on the data provided by construction Industry professionals in Ireland.
This research is a part of an SFI funded project ‘ZEB-RETROFIT: Achieving nearly zero-energy buildings – A lifecycle assessment approach to retrofitting existing buildings’.
This project will focus on evaluating the effectiveness of innovative building structural elements and systems in retrofitting of existing buildings. Those elements and systems will be examined regarding their individual and potentially combined structural, environmental (e.g. thermal, acoustic, air tightness, fire resistance) and energy performance, and their influence on health, safety and comfort of the building occupants (Figure 1).
This will be done through a combination of the development of numerical models, real-time data provided by the operating demonstrator buildings and physical laboratory experiments.
Give us your feedback
You can also contribute to this research, if you are related to any retrofit projects by taking the following survey:
Furthermore, if you have buildings that may undergo a retrofit programme in the next two years that you would like considered for inclusion in this research project, the research team at NUI Galway would like to hear from you. For more details contact: Dr Jamie Goggins, College of Informatics and Engineering, NUIG. Tel: (091) 492609. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Dr Jamie Goggins is a a senior lecturer at NUIG and chartered engineer, and has has worked as a consulting engineer in Ireland and the UK on a variety of local, national and international projects
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