After the EU signed Kyoto, requiring it to reduce carbon emissions 8% below 1990 levels by 2012, many products and design changed there, diverging from US standards. Cars, for example, became smaller, lighter; and more fuel efficient. Even US automakers not known for efficiency make 62 MPG cars for Europe. Germany and Spain introduced Feed-in Tariffs that paid homeowners to make solar power on their roofs.
But most interestingly, for Americans now considering energy efficient retrofits with a new “Cash for Caulkers” program being considered, a whole new industry was created by the need to supply new energy efficient building innovations. Energy efficient glass.
An assortment of European window manufacturers now make far more energy efficient glass for residential use than here. This makes it possible for even an entirely glass house to meet Germany’s exacting PassivHaus standards (far more energy focused than our LEED ratings).
The PassivHaus energy efficiency standard developed in Germany requires buildings to be net zero energy. In most cases this requires thick insulation, (also driving innovation in insulation) but even fully glass houses in Europe can be energy efficient.
In this house all the remaining electricity needed is supplied by a ground heat pump and the solar roof that was incorporated into the original building design. This makes more than enough electricity to meet the energy needs of the building for electricity, heating, cooling, and for heating water.
Currently, only one company makes such energy efficient windows for houses in the US. Serious Materials has that market entirely to itself, and it is growing by leaps and bounds. But as we start to get serious about reducing our own greenhouse gas emissions with the passage of legislation like Europe did to reduce theirs, we may see may see more window manufacturers here competing to offer us such products too.
Europeans now have half the carbon footprint of Americans, so we can learn how it’s done from them. It won’t kill us to get our energy from renewables and efficiency. It might even be quite pleasant.
Image: Werner Sobek
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