Currently Europe is leading the charge toward a green, energy-efficient environment, with an Energy Efficiency Plan to renovate at least 3% of all public buildings each year until the year 2020, when all new buildings are required to be carbon-free. The planned renovation includes the use of all the modern technologies discussed below for making buildings optimally efficient with regard to energy use.
Approximately 10% – 30% of any building’s total energy consumption is lighting, this area has received a great deal of attention, and emerging technologies in this sphere are appearing at a surprising rate. Refinements are continuously being made to Light Emitting Diode (LED) technology, and at present LED bulbs only use about one-tenth of the energy that standard incandescent light bulbs do, while lasting 40 times longer. Another ultra-efficient lighting technology called Organic Light Emitting Diodes (OLED) is being explored as well. OLED lights, which are so slim that they can be embedded into transparent window-like materials which allow the sun’s rays in during daylight and then illuminate at night, are the future of green lighting in the office.
High efficiency insulating materials for buildings–developed several decades ago and constantly undergoing slight improvements—is another trend in the green building initiative. Insulating Concrete Forms (ICFs) use interlocking polystyrene forms to create a wall, which cannot be penetrated, so no heat loss occurs, adding to a structure’s energy efficiency. Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs) work by sandwiching insulation between sheets of building material to create a barrier against energy loss. The newest insulating strategy, emerging less than five years ago, offers a dramatic departure from the time-tested philosophy of trapping air in pockets. Phase Change Materials (PCMs) absorb and discharge heat as they morph back and forth from solid to liquid, drawing in or releasing heat, depending on the situation.
Heating and Cooling Technology
With nearly half the total energy consumption of a household being dedicated to Heating, Ventilating, and Air Conditioning (HVAC), it is not surprising that so much research has gone into energy efficiency concerning air quality in the home. According to Quick Roofing, a provider of affordable roof repair, new materials and strategies used in air purification, for example ultraviolet light and photo-reactive chemicals, which enable buildings to recycle large volumes of internal air, help lower heating and cooling costs.
Passive solar and radiant heating allows warmed air from the outside to be diverted to heat the interior. Conversely, during warm months of the year, cooler air is diverted inside. These kinds of passive strategies are frequently used in modern high-efficiency buildings to capitalize on the conservation aspect of air re-circulation.
Self-powered buildings are the Holy Grail of energy efficiency. With more buildings being built all the time. These new projects approach the net-zero condition, i.e. all energy consumed by a building is also generated by it. The technologies that make this possible are solar power and wind turbine power, with some buildings harnessing both in tandem. Solar power is an entirely passive process, in which no energy is expended to gain the stored power from the sun, and wind turbine power is similar in that it harnesses the power of the wind without really using any energy in the process.
The one catch with these two very promising sources of energy is that other innovative technologies are required to help incorporate them efficiently into the actual building design. The photovoltaic cells, which gather the sun’s power, are very effective on rooftops and building facades, but it is difficult to place enough of them on a single building to achieve self-power. Strategies and technologies, however, are improving all the time.
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