Expediting the introduction of sustainable energy, smoothly phasing out fossil-fuel energy, and achieving energy savings, while ensuring that power supplies remain secure, available and affordable: these are the shared aspirations that prompted ECN and TNO to join forces. ECN part of TNO has eight innovation programmes. Five questions and answers on one of these programmes, Towards an energy-producing built environment.
The energy transition must be expedited if the Paris climate targets are to be achieved. This will require technical, social and policy innovations. ECN part of TNO is taking on this challenge by collaborating with the Dutch business community, research institutes and governmental bodies to implement eight innovation programmes. Here Huub Keizers, Energy Programme Manager at the Built Environment department of TNO, answers five questions on one of these programmes, Towards an energy-producing built environment.
1. What is the aim of the programme?
“We want buildings that are self-supporting both with regard to heating and electricity, and that actually have energy to spare, for use by industry or transport, for instance. If we simply aim for energy-neutral buildings, then it’s clear that we will fail to achieve the European target of making the entire built environment completely energy-neutral by 2050. The built environment is also strongly fragmented: from small firms right up to large construction, installation and energy companies. For the transition to happen, all of them will need to be on board, including municipalities and regional governments.”
“We want buildings that are self-supporting both with regard to heating and electricity, and that ultimately have energy to spare”
2. What elements is ECN part of TNO concentrating on?
“Firstly we ensure that energy use is minimized, in such a way that that the home or work environment is pleasant, comfortable and healthy. Any building can be made low-energy, but if it means that everyone in it has to wear a thick sweater then the transition isn’t going to happen. Secondly we maximize energy production. If you can bring that about in the building itself, or at any rate nearby, then you minimize transport losses. Thirdly we optimize energy storage. Solar and wind power can be used directly, but you also want to be able to store it losslessly in order to bridge longer periods or seasons.”
3. How is ECN part of TNO tackling this?
“For instance, by taking heat pumps that are already on the market and matching them with specific buildings and renovation concepts. We are also developing technologies to make heat pumps more energy-efficient, quieter, and ‘plug-and-play’, and we are working on a new type of heat storage, storing heat in a lossless and compact way in salts instead of water. At the area level we are working on low-temperature heat networks operating at about 35°C, which have much smaller heat losses during transport. The heat comes from sustainable sources like geothermal, biomass or solar. And we are developing technologies to integrate solar energy into building components.”
“Soon factories will be producing ready-made roofs and façades with built-in solar panels, which will make renovation much cheaper”
4. Will all these technologies be enough, or will people also have to alter their behaviour?
“From a technical viewpoint a concept can be perfect, but if you’re in a climate-controlled office and someone opens a window, your concept isn’t going to work. To make sure that new technologies are used effectively, we have to make people aware of them. It might seem smart to switch off the ventilation, for example, because you lose less heat, but this eventually degrades your internal environment. If you play a lot of sports, and you take more showers, then it makes sense to invest a bit more in heat recovery techniques for those showers. It’s always a combination of raising individual awareness and using new technologies in a smart way.”
5. When will the results start to be visible?
“If we want to meet the Paris climate targets then we have to renovate 1,000 houses a day, starting tomorrow – but at current work rates we’re only doing 600 to 800 houses a year. So we have to come up with industrial-scale solutions. This programme has a realistic ambition: to be able to reach 30,000 to 50,000 houses a year in three or four years’ time. As ECN part of TNO we’re not doing this alone; we’re collaborating with partners on these technologies, and manufacturers, large companies and SMEs are bringing them to market. You’ll be able to buy that compact, quiet heat pump in three or four years.”
“We maximize energy production. If you can bring that about in the building itself, or at any rate nearby, then you minimize transport losses”
Integrated solar panels
Solar panels have become a familiar sight in the Netherlands, but it hasn’t gone far enough. If we want sustainable solar power to be used on a large scale, we have to make it a really attractive choice. So the panels have to look good, they have to be easy to install, and – ideally – they have to be less expensive. By developing technology that enables coloured solar collectors to be integrated into building components, TNO is helping to make it possible to renovate entire neighbourhoods. Soon factories will be producing ready-made roofs and façades with built-in solar panels – ‘building-integrated photovoltaics’, or BIPV – which will make renovation much cheaper.