1 topic, 2 key figures, 3 startups to draw inspiration from
In May 2021, Barbara Pompili, the French Minister of the Ecological Transition, announced the selection of 215 startups and SMEs for the GreenTech Innovation label, among which 45 are solutions for more sustainable buildings and better energy efficiency. These startups will be supported by the government for their development and commercialization. This is one example out of many government initiatives to boost the building energy efficiency and renovation market.
The International Energy Agency estimates that the building sector is responsible for 42% of global electricity consumption. Energy efficiency is about performing the same tasks with less energy. Buildings can go down to net-zero energy consumption which means that the total amount of energy used equals the amount of renewable energy created on-site or by off-site renewable sources. As most of the energy used in buildings is for maintaining a comfortable temperature (heating or cooling) and good ventilation, effective thermal insulation has a major impact on energy consumption. Thus, in the context of global efforts to reduce energy consumption and reach the 2050 net-zero target, buildings’ energy efficiency is more than necessary. To achieve it, most of the efforts need to focus on renovating and retrofitting existing buildings, rather than new performant ones, as they will represent more than 90% of 2050’s properties. It has ecological and economic benefits as it reduces the amount of energy consumed (and associated GHG emissions) while lowering the energy bill for the occupants. The top priority are the « thermal strainers » which are the buildings with the worst energy efficiency, where cold enters in the winter and heat enters in the summer. In France, they correspond to the buildings with an energy consumption above 330 kWh /sqm /year, which are ranked F or G. There are three main thermal losses. The surfaces (roof, walls, windows, ground floor) between the interior and exterior account for up to 80% of energy loss. Then, the controlled mechanical ventilation and ventilation grilles, which ensure the renewal of indoor air, make up to 20% to 25% of energy loss. Finally, the thermal bridges, which are points in construction where the insulation barrier is interrupted, contribute to 5% to 10% of heat loss. Thus, efforts should be put on external cladding and filling the thermal bridges to retrofit the existing buildings.
Different types of innovative solutions exist to improve buildings’ energy efficiency:
- Measure: Many sensors and IoT technologies have been developed to compute more accurately buildings’ energy consumption. French start-up Smart Impulse, for instance, has developed a smart meter to measure the electricity consumption of buildings by usage (lighting, IT, heating, etc.) which gives insights on potential energy savings.
- Retrofit: Picking the right materials highly contributes to buildings’ efficiency. New technologies have been developed to avoid energy loss, such as the thermal reflective resin for roofs of the start-up Cool Roof. Their solution aims to return roughly 90% of the solar heat. It protects the roof from physical damage while maintaining a comfortable temperature inside the building. Moreover, the Dutch EnergieSprong approach is being deployed in France, UK, and Germany for a quick and affordable retrofit of the existing buildings into zero-energy ones.
- Optimize: There are more and more integrated energy management systems that measure and autonomously regulate energy consumption. Thanks to numerous sensors and IoT devices, the American start-up Budderfly provides a solution optimizing entire buildings’ energy consumption.
Although these solutions are very promising, some challenges still have to be overcome. First, renovation takes time obtaining the required permits for structural renovations, finding the right partners, and performing it. Then, even if some startups and companies are offering affordable solutions, it remains costly and often requires important initial investments. All the more so as energy-efficiency goals are often secondary to economic considerations and are not taken into account in the property’s life-cycle costs. Another barrier is the fragmentation of the construction industry, which involves many different actors and stakeholders who have varied interests. Finally, the diversity of the social and regulatory contexts – within the EU for instance – makes it hard to scale solutions.
However, most countries are addressing this issue and implementing associated regulations, incentives, and climate change targets. In France, the government has put in place financial support for buildings renovation but also biding policies like the interdiction from 2028 to rent a flat or house with an energy performance rated F or G. In 2021, the French government announced 6.6 million euros for buildings’ energy renovation over 2 years in their economic recovery plan. Another example of an efficient policy in California where homes and buildings are relatively energy-efficient today. Since 1975, the California Public Utility Commission has directed the investor-owned utilities to commit over $US 5 billion to energy efficiency programs, 85% of which has been targeted at retrofit energy efficiency investments in existing buildings. For instance, Netflix has equipped its headquarters in Los Gatos with View dynamic glass, which controls how much light gets in and contributes to saving up to 20% of energy costs.
To conclude, there are a lot of startups that have spotted an opportunity in improving buildings’ energy efficiency, whether it is with hardware and high-tech materials or smart software. The market is far from being addressed, and governments are multiplying incentives to do so, which is very promising as soon as people are willing to make the investment.
2 Key Figures
637 building energy efficiency & management startups
registered by Tracxn
Global efficient building market expected to reach $253 Bn by 2027
The global efficient building market was estimated at $146 Bn in 2020 and is expected to reach $253 Bn by 2027, at a CAGR of 8.15%.
3 startups to draw inspiration from
This week, we identified three startups that we can draw inspiration from: Sensor Flow, View, and 75 Fahrenheit.
SensorFlow is a Singapore-based start-up that develops room automation and energy management systems focussed on the hospitality sector. Its solution helps automate a building to optimize energy consumption. It includes occupancy sensors, smart thermostats, door sensors, and split unit thermostats.
View is a Californian start-up that has created a glass solution that increases and optimizes the amount of natural light in buildings while simultaneously improving energy efficiency, and advancing smart and connected buildings.
75F is a US-based start-up making smart building automation affordable and easy to deploy. 75F leverages IoT, Cloud Computing and Machine Learning for data-driven building intelligence and controls for HVAC, lighting and energy optimization.