We won’t get to net zero with today’s housing stock without radical action. Lucy Han, ABB’s global home automation expert, explains how new technology holds the key.
Lucy Han, ABB’s global home automation expert
With energy fuel costs hitting all-time highs in many parts of the world, and a global imperative to reduce emissions, there’s an urgent need to make our homes low-carbon and energy efficient. Developers have taken up the mantle and we’re seeing ground-breaking innovation in a new generation of net-zero residential buildings.
This is both inspiring and necessary – it’s exhilarating to witness the sustainable new builds that combine cutting-edge design with seamless digital technology, enhancing our convenience and comfort as inhabitants, while minimizing environmental impact.
What we can’t lose sight of, however, is the fact that old buildings make up the majority of our housing stock, and that presents more of a challenge.In some parts of the world, retrofitting every existing house to the voluntary ultra-low energy performance standard known as passive house (Passivhaus), could take so long and cost so much we won’t achieve the climate targets set.
With households currently consuming around 29 percent of global energy, and contributing 21 percent of resultant CO2 emissions1, it’s vital that we pool our resources when it comes to creative thinking and innovation to make the progress we need to – particularly as we know retrofitting has the potential to dramatically reduce demand for heating.
To set the scene
Passive houses arrived at the end of the 1980s, with the objective to take advantage of natural resources and use meteorological sensors, thermal insulation and the natural renewal of air to maximize energy savings.
The first homes were built in Zaragoza, Spain, and realized energy savings of 80 percent on air conditioning, 50 percent on lighting, and 90 percent on electricity using photovoltaic panels. One of the motivations for the project was the legislation that made it possible for the surplus electricity produced by the photovoltaic panels to be sold to the electricity grid, offsetting even more of the cost.
More recently in Switzerland, a residential complex of 39 apartments in Urdorfhas taken energy saving to the next level by using energy capturing and innovative building technologies, so that each home is provided with year-round energy supply at little or no additional cost. This is achieved by generating, storing, and saving energy through building automation and energy management systems. Tenants are provided with an annual allowance of 2,000 kilowatt hours which is included in the rent, and this is rarely exceeded.
Surplus electricity, which is produced from solar panels over the summer months, is then fed into the grid, taking energy capture a step further.
The retrofit challenge
So how can this sustainable innovation be applied to housing stock in the rest of Europe, where up to 40 percent of buildings predate the 1960s? While integrating renewable sources can seem daunting and costly, technology can make a significant difference, and consumers and residents themselves need to be behind the transition.
Increased home working and rising energy costs are certainly boosting the demand for more sustainable living, along with increased climate change awareness and understanding of the benefits in investing in sustainable renovations. Homeowners are looking for ways to cut energy bills, make their lives easier and reduce carbon footprints, ideally at the same time, and smart home automation and energy management technology can offer a solution.
The era of smart homes
Smart home technology is evolving at speed2 and is where we focus a great deal of our R&D, innovation and investment. This technology keeps track of exactly how much energy each appliance in the home uses and can set timers according to weather and demand patterns to take advantage of periods of low demand. This means that heating or cooling can be optimized, and appliances can be set to operate in the hours when electricity is at its cheapest. The technology helps significantly reduce fuel consumption for heating and cooling while the use of LEDs can reduce lighting costs to negligible amounts.
Integrated home energy systems that are completely open to all manufacturers – meaning appliances by different manufacturers can be used in homes and they will successfully communicate among themselves – are a major innovation.This brings significant benefits to homeowners looking to upgrade their homes seamlessly, with the latest technology to securely and safely manage energy, utilities, and comfort, connecting devices for ultimate ease and efficiency.
We know households want their homes to be safe and secure, their energy usage well managed, and other consumption, such as outdoor water usage, well controlled. Devices that support this, and more are available and connect to a central smart home interface and with other third-party devices and technology in a user-friendly and intuitive way – all the control a household might need, but all with a light touch within a framework you can trust.
A single application that can connect electric vehicle charging, smart home technology and an energy consumption display, enables residents to better control energy consumption and bills while also supporting power continuity, energy load management, and grid stability.
More than energy savings
Energy-saving alone only gets us so far, however. The use of photovoltaic panels, and the storing and processing of energy,can enhance the cost-savings even further. As we face continued uncertainty around supply and cost, energy capture and innovative technology are vital in the transition efforts.
The challenge for designers, developers, architects, and solutions providers is to create more efficient energy solutions for existing buildings that can be installed with maximum cost and time efficiency to reduce carbon emissions while also enhancing people’s lives. Achieving this is no longer tomorrow’s ambition – it’s something our customers are already doing, thanks to the power of innovation.
We know that through a combination of efficiency measures, renewable energy sources, cutting-edge design and technology, it’s possible to reduce home energy use by around 40 percent1 and we’re committed to accelerating our abilities to support residents of existing buildings in retrofitting and upgrading their homes. Not only does this deliver critical savings, it helps bring automation to people’s lives in ways they can control, with security and safety, while the technology can improve their lives, and their comfort, both of mind and of surroundings.