Passivhaus Solutions for COP21 Climate Objectives
Earlier this December (2015) in Paris at COP21 we witnessed almost 200 nations sign an ambitious International Climate Agreement to prevent global temperatures from exceeding a 2°C rise, ideally limiting them to 1.5°C.
Whether global climate objectives are met or not largely depends on the building sector. Over a third of the total energy consumption worldwide is used to operate buildings, making it a big part of the problem… and, therefore, a big part of the solution! (We like to view our cup half full at the Passivhaus Trust.) The construction industry could claim a starring role in tackling climate change.
Energy efficient construction was a key topic on "Buildings Day." How Passivhaus can contribute as a viable solution was presented by the International Passivhaus Association (iPHA) with international new build and retrofit case studies.
Given the context of the UK Government abandoning many energy-related policies during 2015, a global agreement that will at least set a direction of travel has to be a good thing. As usual though, this comes with many caveats, particularly concerns about potential overheating, ventilation and performance-gap risks in many non-Passivhaus low energy buildings. Overall, this can only strengthen the role of Passivhaus as a rigorous, proven standard for comfort and energy efficiency.
At the UK Passivhaus Conference in October, chaired by Jonathan Hines, director of PHT Patron member Architype, the final panel recognised the Government’s abandonment of decarbonisation and sustainability targets and questions arose as to whether the lack of policy support will prevent Passivhaus from being adopted at larger scale. The outcome was that industry was leading and it may be more resilient to never become too reliant upon Government policy.
Why wait for regulation? Just do it! It’s not impossible, simply good design!
Jonathan Hines, Director, Architype
Prioritise curbing consumption
Whilst switching to renewable energy sources is important in reaching a sustainable future, we should be focusing on reducing our energy consumption and increasing energy efficiency. PHT board member Lynne Sullivan attended the summit in Paris. Commenting on the positive atmosphere of the event she believes “we should implement the message that energy efficiency is the best buy for energy resilience - by prioritising the upgrade of our existing stock and minimising the energy demand of new buildings through maximising fabric energy efficiency.”
Passivhaus offers a tried and tested solution with which building operational energy consumption can be reduced to about ten percent. We need to be improving our processes and quality control to ensure buildings perform as designed.
Renewable energy is absolutely essential for climate protection, but better efficiency offers even greater potential.
Dr. Wolfgang Feist, Passivhaus Institute
Jonathan Hines champions the adoption of Passivhaus. He believes as architects we should focus on designing buildings that will consume a fraction of the energy they do now, and close the inexcusable performance gap that our industry so complacently accepts.
Wilkinson Primary School - Architype
Architype have monitored their buildings over several years and are confident that Passivhaus delivers thermal energy savings of up to 90 per cent whilst increasing internal comfort. It offers the industry an evidence-based design tool, underpinned by a rigorous certification process based upon simple building physics. Hines says 'We also know Passivhaus need not cost more to build.'
We should measure the performance of our buildings and publish the results. We should stop designing all glass buildings and recognise that each elevation has differing means of reducing energy.
Robin Nicholson, Cullinan Studio
New categories within the Passivhaus Standard pre-empt a future not dependent upon fossil fuels, and aims to ensure the transition is as smooth as possible. Plus, and Premium champion the use of these ‘clean energy sources’ taking energy storage into consideration on energy calculations.
We also like Lynne Sullivan's suggestions for action:
- Redistributing tax revenue from the ‘big’ (energy company) carbon emitters to local energy efficiency delivery.
- Redistributing fossil fuel subsidies to renewable energy.
- All new housing to be 2050-ready, with planning and building regulations, fit for that purpose including mandatory Fabric Energy Efficiency Standards.
- Declarations of Performance in Use to be a requirement of any public funding for building, and compliance methods to be realigned to minimising the performance gap.
- Energy Literacy to be a core requirement of professional competency and taught in schools.
Five-year reviews will hopefully represent the efforts of all parties over time. Whilst the COP21 agreement is an historic achievement, many believe it will be up to the industry to act as catalysts of change and innovation, ensuring that the climate objectives are carried through to reality rather than relying on policy to enforce them.