Revised EU energy efficiency rules have opened a window of opportunity for the glass and glazing industry

Phil Brown, European regulatory marketing manager at Pilkington UK, discusses the recent major revision of the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive and how it could help to drive the energy efficiency market within the glass and glazing sector.

On July 9, a significantly revised version of the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) – the EU’s most important legislative tool for energy efficiency in buildings – came into force. Now, national governments have until March 2020 to update their laws to reflect the changes.

Throughout the process of updating the directive, trade association Glass for Europe has lobbied European policy makers to recognise the important role that glazing plays in the way buildings perform.

They have a compelling case. Previous research commissioned by Glass for Europe revealed that 100 million tonnes of CO2 could be saved annually across European nations by using energy efficient glazing.

The association’s work has largely been a success. As you will read below, the new directive creates new cases for the glass and glazing industry to supply energy-efficient glazing across Europe, particularly regarding how glass can boost building occupiers’ well-being.

The consultations on how to incorporate the changes into EU member states are likely to begin after summer. As with many Brexit-related issues the situation in the UK is unclear, although the general expectation is that all EU regulations will be transposed into UK law as part of the Great Repeal Bill. At the very least, the new EPBD should prompt the next revision of Part L of the Building Regulations in England, a consultation for which is rumoured to appear at the end of this year.

This will be a major window of opportunity for the glass and glazing industry, and national glass associations are expected to start building their networks to be ready to influence national stakeholders, and to ensure implementation helps to drive the market for better-performing products.

Currently, EU countries must set cost-optimal minimum energy-performance requirements for new buildings and major renovations. They must also draw up lists of national financial measures like funding and tax benefits to improve energy efficiency.

The assessment of energy performance in buildings should also consider both insulation properties and passive heating, known as the energy balance.

However, despite it already being part of the guidance, evidence shows that passive heating is currently rarely taken into consideration in the calculation methods applied to windows – Window Energy Ratings in the UK being an exception. This is despite glazing being the only aspect of a building that can deliver cost-free heat gains by allowing in the sun’s energy.

To embrace 21st century technologies, the new regulation needs to cover all energy-related impacts of building materials and technologies. Currently, all too often the benefits of innovative glazing products meant to control heat gains are disregarded.

Under the new, revised EPBD, EU countries will have to establish stronger long-term renovation strategies, with the aim of decarbonising the national building stock by 2050. As the existing building stock remains a challenge in most countries, national strategies should be targeted at increasing the renovation rate, ideally aiming for 3%.

This should kick-start the transformation of existing buildings into almost zero-energy consumers, or even mini power stations, linking the energy savings contribution of the building sector to the wider European Union’s energy efficiency target.

Aside from energy performance, there is another aspect to the new legislation that has important implications for glazing, which is that, for the first time, the health and well-being of building users must be taken into account. This could be in the form of a requirement for a minimum percentage of glazed area compared to the floor area in new constructions and major renovations.

Glazing also has a significant role to play here.

In a recent study by American Academy of Sleep Medicine, workers without access to natural daylight reported poorer scores than their counterparts on quality-of-life-measures related to physical problems, as well as poorer outcomes of overall sleep quality.

Meanwhile, studies in schools found that students in buildings exposed to natural daylight achieve better scores, are calmer and more focused. The absence of windows in offices has been connected to higher stress levels and increased absences.

This will be delivered in the form of an increased importance on good air quality and ventilation in the design of buildings.

The support for replacement of outdated windows and glazing during renovations will help raise awareness among national governments about the contribution energy efficient glazing can make towards the energy and climate objectives set out in the EPBD.

In addition, for architects and specifiers in the UK, the EPBD’s revisions should act as a prompt to think about how windows can be used more frequently to increase ventilation and provide natural light, enhancing well-being for users.

But we in the glass industry must seize the opportunity by shouting about the potential energy savings and well-being improvements that can be made by choosing the right glass and by being prepared to deliver the required support to customers.