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Soaring summer temperatures and how buildings must beat the heat

By Anna Dukhno
June 17, 2019

How high-energy-use buildings contribute to global emissions and their ability to cope in soaring summer temperatures are becoming increasingly vital issues as the world experiences a period of extreme weather and weighs up the long-term impact of climate change.

2018 was the fourth warmest year on record across the world with France, Germany, Switzerland experiencing their hottest years in recorded history; 430 global weather stations witnessed all-time temperature highs last year and 2019 started with Australia experiencing its hottest ever January with temperatures hitting 49.5ºC causing drought, bushfires and hospitalisations.

Weather, emissions and buildings

Such dramatic temperatures inevitably have a significant impact on building energy use and emissions, says the International Energy Agency (IEA).

Weather conditions in 2018 were responsible for a fifth of the increase in global energy demand as average winter and summer temperatures in some regions approached or exceeded historical records… significantly hotter summer temperatures pushed up demand for cooling,” the agency says.

Global demand for energy soared by 2.3% in 2018 — twice the average rate of growth in 2010 — and CO2 emissions rose by a record 1.7%. “The buildings sector represented 28% of annual emissions, two-thirds from rapidly growing electricity use,” says the IEA.

In some parts of the world the picture is more depressing. For example, buildings are responsible for 36% of emissions and 40% of energy consumption in Europe.

Cutting carbon with energy efficiency

So, what do we do about this? First, we need to show policymakers that by making our buildings more energy efficient we can reduce global energy use and emissions. Secondly, we need more resilient buildings that genuinely deliver these reductions in an environment that is experiencing more rapid and significant changes.

Sîan Hughes, our Director of External Affairs, says: “At Knauf Insulation we have long campaigned to put near-zero energy-use buildings (NZEB) at the core of political agendas and have consistently called for ambitious building renovation initiatives to save energy and curb climate-changing emissions.

“In Europe, a commitment has been made to decarbonise Europe’s building stock by 2050 backed by legislative action such as the revised Energy Performance of Buildings Directive which mandates that new buildings must be nearly zero-energy and ambitious national renovation policies have to be initiated. Imagine the impact of such legislative action on the two-thirds of the world that do not have energy efficiency policies?”

In the words of Fatih Birol, Executive Director of the IEA, “the right efficiency policies could enable the world to achieve more than 40% of the emissions cuts need to reach its climate goals without new technology”.

Making buildings resilient to a warmer climate

Of course, energy efficiency policies for buildings are no use without ensuring that these buildings deliver the energy savings and carbon reductions that are promised.

At Knauf Insulation we are working on making these promises a reality. We are helping installers apply our solutions as effectively as possible through our experience centers, constructing better designed buildings to further improve our research and development and exploring new ways to make buildings more resilient by examining the impact of material, design and construction factors that can dramatically undermine building performance. One area of specific interest is the positive role that an energy efficient fabric can play in managing summer time overheating and reducing the need for mechanical cooling.

Ross Holleron, Head of Building Research at Knauf Energy Solutions, says: “We have to accept that the climate is changing at a quicker rate than we have ever seen before and a huge percentage of buildings are already overheating in the summer, particularly in rapidly expanding cities.

Devastating impact of overheating buildings

“Increasingly homes, offices or public buildings are being built or retrofitted to retain heat energy in the winter but little consideration is being paid to how these same buildings behave during the hotter summer periods. Without intelligent use of thermal mass, shading and night-time ventilation strategies these builds can suffer from overheating. The unintended negative impacts can range from heat-related illnesses to the economic cost of lost productivity.”

To tackle these issues our researchers are exploring how adopting a systems approach to buildings design can avoid these negative outcomes. For example, we are examining the impact of human behaviour, how buildings interact with their surroundings and how the envelope of a building can be improved to function better.

“Our buildings are not keeping up with a rapidly changing climate or fast-changing demographic so we have to make them more adaptable and resilient,” says Ross. “To do that we must examine the interaction between all the different aspects of a building from design and specification to construction and operation to maximise their future value. It is vital work that is becoming increasingly essential as the building industry faces ever more complex challenges.”