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Building the future of energy efficiency

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Building regulations are a big part of ensuring the homes and buildings of the future are both lower carbon and lower in terms of running costs - and newer, tougher standards are coming in the spring of 2014.

The measures require a six per cent cut in domestic buildings, and nine per cent for non domestic. The Government says this will result in £200 savings on homes’ fuel bills and over £60k for businesses compared with 2010 standards.

As well championing the benefits of the tightened Part L of the regulations, the Government online portal also features four volumes of case studies of domestic properties built under Code for Sustainable Homes standards.

This is definitely worth a look; including new builds as well as redevelopments of derelict buildings and properties reaching Passivhaus standards of energy efficiency.  Sharing examples of good planning, execution, and also the human experience in living in a low-carbon home is absolutely essential if consistency at national level is to be achieved.

Of course, great examples of improving heating, lighting and building fabric to ensure reduced losses of vital energy are all well and good – but are there technologies of the cusp of pushing us even further down the road to zero carbon?

Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Laboratory would certainly like to think so. They believe their new material puts us well on the way to a ‘smart window’ that would enable the residents of buildings to control the amount of heat and light energy that gets through via a thin layer of nanocrystals. For example, this could mean that a building could receive full natural light, but no unwanted heat gain – reducing the need for carbon-intensive air conditioning in hot climates. As the lab’s press release explains:

The material is a thin coating of nanocrystals embedded in glass that can dynamically modify sunlight as it passes through a window. Unlike existing technologies, the coating provides selective control over visible light and heat-producing near-infrared (NIR) light, so windows can maximize both energy savings and occupant comfort in a wide range of climates."

It’s an idea that’s generating some excitement. The researchers have already won awards, and are in the early stages of making this into a commercial reality; a reality that apparently is also cheap and low-carbon intensity in production. There’s little joy in a low-carbon breakthrough that will have an unerringly high-carbon start to life, after all.

Gary Hartley is Energy Saving Trust's expert blogger. He has extensive experience researching and writing on a number of topics, with particular expertise in sustainable energy, policy, literature and sport. As well as providing regular blog content, Gary has also been published in numerous magazines and journals.

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