Is current activity enough?

Phil Brown, European regulatory marketing manager for Pilkington UK, discusses how policy changes, emerging construction trends and new technology could help to stimulate the energy efficiency market over the next five years.

There’s plenty of activity concerning the energy efficiency of buildings, with product development and innovation, policy changes, and emerging trends in construction. However, over the next five years some developments could either stimulate the market or fall short of delivering improvements entirely.

On the surface, it looks very positive for the market. The last decade has seen many developers take responsibility for creating highly energy-efficient buildings. New products like building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV) – which are building components such as architectural glazing that can perform as a renewable energy-generating material – are also expanding the umbrella of energy efficiency beyond the traditional sense of thermal insulation.

Meanwhile, policy changes that look to improve energy efficiency in the UK are set to be implemented over the next few years. But, will all of this be enough?

The German Passivhaus trend of building incredibly energy efficient homes, which usually includes the specification of triple-glazing, is starting to turn heads in the UK after London’s first fully certified Passivhaus was completed in 2009. This type of construction should become more popular over the next few years as more builders are trained in it. Other types of low energy construction like nearly zero energy buildings and energy positive houses, which generate a surplus of energy, are also starting to shift from niche to norm.

There is increasing awareness of how BIPV can be used in modern buildings; there’s not a lot of space to put solar panels on the roof of large tower blocks, but with BIPV, developers can turn entire facades into energy-generating assets, without compromising on light transmission.

Regarding energy-efficient glazing, switchable glazing technology will have an important part to play in the near future, but there’s still a lot of work to be done to produce an affordable solution available in large volumes.

Despite Brexit concerns, the EU’s implementation of its revised Energy Performance Building Directive (EPBD) from 2019 should have a positive impact on the market for energy efficient building products in newly constructed buildings. However, the policy framework, which requires EU Member States to ensure minimum levels of energy efficiency are adhered too, could fall short in delivering improvements for the UK’s existing building stock.

Renovation activity is what makes up the largest part of the market for energy efficient glazing. In England, replacement windows in residential properties currently need to achieve a maximum U-value of 1.6W/m²K, or minimum WER of C. This isn’t a very ambitious target, and it hasn’t been revised since 2010, and in seven years higher performing windows have become more readily available in the UK market. We’re overdue a revaluation of minimum requirements.

From April 2018, landlords will be fined for renting out properties with the lowest energy efficiency ratings of F and G. While this sounds like an opportunity for the glass and glazing sector, thousands of landlords could be exempt from the new rules if they can prove special funding is not available in their area. That said, new research from insurer Axa suggests landlords are taking action, with the amount of F and G properties apparently halving since 2015.

The execution of the quality mark for energy efficient products recommended in the Bonfield Review – now renamed Each Home Counts – at the start of the year are still being fine-tuned. However, we should have more details on its delivery and roll-out this time next year.

Finally, there are some promising signs from the government’s recently published Clean Growth Plan, which has put improving the energy efficiency of homes at the heart of its strategy. It’s outlined plans to upgrade all fuel poor homes to be upgraded to Energy Performance Certificate Band C by 2035, with the support of £3.6 billion to upgrade the energy efficiency of a million homes.

While energy efficiency policies may fall short of delivering significant opportunities for glass manufacturers and installers, product innovation and a sense of responsibility among developers will help to drive the market forward.