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Insulation as an Ally of Energy Efficiency


The previous blog on the origins of insulation showed that techniques have evolved greatly over time. To a certain extent, today’s practices contribute to managing several sustainable development challenges. The biggest challenge for the building sector is certainly energy efficiency.

Read this blog to better understand the causes behind building eco-efficiency measures and see why insulation is one of the major ways to achieve it.


Mitigating the growth of energy demand

World Energy Demand

Being intrinsically linked to real estate growth, global energy demand is steadily increasing. The growth of housing stock continues. Globally, the floor area reached 235 billion m2 in 2016, resulting in total energy consumption of buildings of 125 exajoules (EJ) in 2016, compared to 119 EJ in 2010 (United Nations Environment Program and International Energy Agency, 2017).

To meet the growing demand, the total energy supply in the world has now increased by 60% compared to 1990. This is indicated by the most recent data from the United Nations (2018). In addition, the International Energy Agency (IEA) forecasts an increase of the global energy demand by an additional 30% by 2040 (International Energy Agency, 2017).


National Demand for Energy

In Canada, 71.9% of energy is used for secondary purposes, that is, to supply the industrial (39.7%), transportation (29.4%), residential (17.1%), commercial/institutional (10.8%) and agricultural (3.1%) sectors. Overall energy consumption increased by 31% between 1990 and 2014. Without the energy efficiency measures deployed in the various sectors, this same consumption would have increased by 55% (Natural Resources Canada, 2018).

With respect to power generation in Canada that was reaching 2.3 EJ in 2015, the sources of that power are mainly renewable energy (64.8%) and fossil fuel (35.2%) (Natural Resources Canada, 2018). The problem is that the growth in energy demand systematically increases the consumption of fossil fuels. For example, in Québec, 40 million tons of oil equivalent were used in 2013. However, 50% of this consumption is oil and natural gas for heating and cooling needs. The proportions related to these needs are 65.7% for the residential sector and 58.4% for the commercial and institutional sector (Ministère de l’Énergie et des Ressources naturelles [MERN], 2013).


Reducing total greenhouse gas emissions (GHG)

Global GHG Emissions

Between 2005 and 2013, global GHG emissions increased by 18.3%. With its 1.6% share, Canada is the ninth largest emitting region (Environment and Climate Change Canada, 2017). As an indication, the average per capita dropped from 21.8 tons of CO2 equivalent in 1990 to 19.4 tons of CO2 equivalent in 2016 (Environment and Climate Change Canada, 2018a).

Although energy efficiency measures have contributed to curbing overall energy consumption, part of the problem is that energy sources add to the carbon footprint of building operations. In 2015, the share of final energy consumption required worldwide was 30% for buildings and 6% for the construction industry. The share of global CO2 reached 28% for buildings and 11% for the construction industry. However, 82% of the energy consumed by buildings worldwide is of fossil origin (United Nations Environment Program and International Energy Agency, 2017).


National GHG Emissions

In 2016, total GHG emissions across Canada were 704 metric tons of CO2 equivalent. Representing 12% of total emissions, the economic sector of buildings appears to be the third-largest source in the country, with a balance of 81 MT CO2 equivalent. It is particularly noteworthy that the total GHG emissions attributable to this same sector have increased since 1990 when it was 73.7 MT CO2 equivalent. By observing the data from the 1990 to 2016 national inventory report, starting in 2000, the results were as low as in 2001 (81.9 metric tons of CO2 equivalent) and 2006 (80.7 metric tons of CO2 equivalent). For the years after this, total emissions varied, but without decreasing significantly.

The most recent forecasts show that the country’s total GHG emissions are expected to be 722 metric tons of CO2 equivalent in 2030. Looking more optimistically at reducing GHG emissions for the same period, other forecasts suggest that, taking into account the specific measures of Canada’s Clean Growth and Climate Change Plan, total emissions are expected to drop by 21% under the levels of 2005, which corresponds to 583 metric tons of CO2 equivalent. In keeping with its commitments under the Paris Climate Agreement, this is at least the reduction target the Government of Canada has set for the next decade (Environment and Climate Change Canada, 2018b).


Efforts Towards Carbon Neutrality

The numbers speak for themselves. To curb the growth which is only adding to the carbon footprint of Canadians, the building sector needs to reduce its total GHG emissions by 28 metric tons. In addition to the many measures that have been taken and announced by governments, such as the federal Clean Growth Program, other stakeholders in society are mobilizing (Natural Resources Canada, 2018).

As part of the Conference of Parties 21 in Paris, the Canada Green Building Council (CaGBCMC) has committed to implementing a comprehensive program to ensure that all new buildings are “net zero” by 2030, and that would apply to all buildings by 2050. One of the trends in reducing GHG emissions, the “zero-carbon building” is defined as “… one that is highly energy-efficient and produces onsite, or procures, carbon-free renewable energy in an amount sufficient to offset the annual carbon emissions associated with operations.” (CaGBCMC, 2016).


Part of the solution is in insulation and waterproofing

Opportunities to help achieve this target include, of course, energy efficiency measures. Insulation is one of the strategies to be used to reduce energy consumption and thereby reduce the carbon footprint of a building.

Improving a building’s insulation and waterproofing reduces heat loss in the winter and freshness in the summer, which can obviously have a significant impact on heating and cooling costs depending on the season. Varying  energy costs exert some influence in the selection of techniques and products. Although a high cost can motivate efforts in terms of insulation and sealing, the climatic characteristics of certain regions can also influence choices. In weather with high winds or even extreme temperature differences, it makes good sense to rely on quality insulation and waterproofing to optimize the thermal efficiency of a building.

All in all, when the time comes to build or renovate a building, it is important to consider its environment, while taking into account the socio-economic context. In any case, to optimize the thermal efficiency of buildings, the main challenges will be to minimize thermal bridges and eliminate air leakage.