Embodied energy performance

july 2015

From energy performance (EP) to embodied energy performance (EEP) (-standard)

(This blog is a translation of a blog in Dutch, published on the biobased platform website: go here for the Dutch version)

For 30 years or longer , we are working to establish a energy transition, with energy savings combined with the introduction of renewable energy. And finally it seems we are at the eve of a breakthrough, at least in the housing sector in the Netherlands. Change is happening, in all kinds of pilot project for 0-energy retrofits, and the acceleration to large scale implementation is expected: mass renovation with energy-invoice-less houses ‘make overs’ developed all around. (also known as zero-on-the-meter concepts, search in dutch for “nulopdemeter” ). With many thanks to the Chinese that crushed the protected solar PV markets, and the economical crises forcing construction companies to find new business models.

The mandatory energy performance requirements , mandatory since the nineties, have done their work and can now be dumped. Its enough to require 0-energy (or better) , without further details. A low energy demand is not needed, but a balance between demand and building site generated supply. And the consumer is not so much interested in 0-energy, but in a (near) new house, plug and play and with performance guarantee. Finally the construction market is becoming a mature market.

But then, its also a bit like out of the frying pan and into the fire: since now the material consumption explodes, and this also is, besides depletion, CO2 impact: fossil energy for mining and winning, transport and processing. The rebound effect is enormous. However, with materials we are still in the spheres of the nineties, when we were thinking in terms of measures in stead of integral concepts, and without any legal norm or ambition. Policies for materials failed so far in the Netherlands, (as in most countries) due to heavy lobbying. As I experienced just recently when I wrote that sustainable concrete does not exist, (nor for any other material, its the use that decides if something is sustainable) . I received lots of mails and phone calls .

But also for materials applies what has been the strategy for energy for years: reduce the need ( in kg, compare with kWh) , and use renewables as much as possible: the current trend for biobased materials, and biobased economy. But this as well should not be voluntarily, but can and should be translated into a integral approach, if we take CO2 as a focus point: measuring the Embodied energy. Its the only approach that works in the end, as we learned from the energy strategies : A mandatory performance requirement. Which fits perfectly in the current trend of performance procurement: The consortium responsible for construction has to guarantee performance and remain responsible for the next 25 years! And it requires no difficult calculations , embodied energy is a good enough proxy for this, the more when it addresses especially fossil energy reduction ( ie CO2 emission reduction).

With materials we can now piggyback on the energy transition , and the only chance for success is a performance requirement. The operational energy requirement can be abolished , replaced by a energy demand and energy production combined standard, the 0-energy requirement. and the old energy approach can be shifted towards a similar approach for materials: A Materials Performance coefficient, for which the ambition levels becomes sharper every next year. However not a complicated version, negotiated with lobbyists and weighted according democratic industry principles, but more simple and better: a EEPC, the “Embodied energy performance coefficient “ which brings in the materials component in as the referee for the choice of zero energy retrofit concepts, so that we end up with the lowest possible rebound effect in materials impact. And biobased will get a boost implicitly.

Moreover, the Chinese are again in the picture, since they push hard now to develop compressed bamboo as a suitable load carrying construction materials. The interest in wood and bamboo houses is growing in China after the concrete showers of the past decades, The first mega production facilities for compressed bamboo are already erected, and the first houses build. We test this bamboo currently , and our Chinese counterparts are ready to break open the Dutch and European market for delivery of bamboo beams and prefab elements.

And then, the road is free for gradually strengthen the EEPC until we reach 0-EEPC, 0-embodied energy , somewhere next 20 years. Can you imagine? The industry, transport and mining sectors have to get in full swing redeveloping their business, producing effectively and with renewable energy , to meet the targets. Innovation everywhere, a new enormous market is dawning ! ( we dont mention depletion now, thats for another contribution)

Time for real policies, and with the Netherlands having the EU chairmanship next year, a beautiful occasion to put the EEPC on the agenda in Europe .

Ronald Rovers july 2015

( By the way, vote against TTIP , it helps as well…)