Impressions from GlassBuild

I recently returned from GlassBuild America in Las Vegas. It was great to see show traffic return to pre-downturn levels and to talk with many customers and people from our industry: Rich Walker and a few of the great AAMA staff: fellow GANA Energy Division leaders Helen Sanders (SAGE Electrochromics) and Stanley Yee (Dow Corning), and lots more. While others have written about what happened in the exhibit hall, here are my impressions of key takeaways from off of the show floor.

I spent Wednesday afternoon at the DOE Energy Roadmap Summit and was pleasantly surprised by the meeting content, number of attendees and level of dialogue. This session followed a show floor’s Express Learning presentation, “DOE Labs Open for Business.”

After the Summit, Helen said, “The DOE Roadmap meeting was a great opportunity to meet Karma Sawyer and talk to her directly about the importance of continuing DOE’s funding of LBNL’s software tools such as COMFEN, Window, Therm and Optics for fenestration and building modeling, and funding of the new FLEXLAB. The FLEXLAB has the potential for putting to an end the battle for the wall by providing the evidence that envelope solutions with high window areas can be highly energy efficient if configured appropriately with daylight harvesting and effective solar and glare control.”

Stanley also noted, “The DOE roadmap meeting gave glass and glazing stakeholders an opportunity to share, with the DOE, ideas on where new and/or additional resources and areas of development the National Labs can service, support, and where collaboration may exist.”

There were a number of additional themes in the DOE’s sessions that I found interesting:

The DOE Building and Technology Office (BTO) has acknowledged that one-year funding of innovation projects isn’t cutting it. They are evolving to longer term funding of projects, up to three years. After all, what innovations actually reach the light of day based on short-term development projects? Most of our companies have stage-gate development processes and milestones, and in many cases, a one-year time frame isn’t enough to truly move the needle of innovation. The BTO recognized that the model of one-year review of projects wasn’t getting the participation from innovative companies needed to meet the BTO’s energy savings goals that include net zero energy buildings (NZEBs).

Since we were in Las Vegas, I’ll use a Vegas term to clarify my support for NZEB: I’m “all-in.” This is an aspirational goal that we need to move toward in the built environment, sooner rather than later. Why? The Roadmap to Zero Emissions that was published by Architecture 2030 in June 2014 emphasizes why this is a good bet.

  • The urban built environment is currently responsible for 70 percent of greenhouse gas emissions.
  • NZEBs play a crucial role to keep global average temperatures under 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Regardless of what you think is causing it, global temperatures are rising. The incidence and severity of weather events are increasing. Basic common sense and prudent risk management call for each major sector of economic activity to examine what’s feasible to reduce their carbon footprint. And the built environment should be first in line.

The one part of the NZEB discussion that came up at the DOE BTO summit where I have questions is whether windows and glazing need to be net zero energy. Does net zero glazing contribute to, or retard, market evolution to NZEBs? What are the paybacks of zero energy windows and glazing? What are the other areas of NZEB that could move the needle more cost effectively?

Our North American companies, Technoform Bautec and Technoform Glass Insulation, are market-leading innovators in new high-performance design and technology of glass and glazing, and we’re investing heavily to accelerate this effort. I’m just not sure that net zero glazing is the right place to spend the investment in order to accomplish the primary, and valid, goals of NZEBs.

Another key takeaway for me from the DOE Energy Roadmap Summit was the BTO asking industry participants what simulation and testing tools we need to support the next wave of high-performance building innovations. Technoform makes it standard practice to ask our customers how we can serve them better. This was the first time I have heard this approach from our national government!

The question is the right one, and here’s why and some examples:

Vacuum insulated glass has a challenge with edge effect, both for temperature and compensation. Are the software tools we currently have sophisticated enough to measure these effects?

Some new products, both from our company and other companies, challenge the capabilities of test labs to accurately measure performance. Dynamic glazing and stored energy in façades are but two examples of these new developments. Since it’s crucial to accurately measure thermal performance on a test wall, plus the need to validate simulations, test methods must evolve as technology does. Other products that are already in widespread use face challenges to properly calculate their performance impact – frits, spandrel area, and embedded coatings within laminates, to name a few.

One of the best discussions I had at the show happened during a dinner meeting with one of our major customers. He asked me whether the thermal Olympics was going to continue. My answer was that I think it will, but added two qualifications. In developer-owned buildings, the appetite for high-performance options gets constrained to a short-term perspective on the paybacks, often in the simplest terms. This challenges our industry to more effectively make the case for the many benefits and overall performance contribution of properly designed high-performance glazing. Reduced maintenance and operations costs, higher human productivity, learning and healing rates, higher retained value of property, and others – all are noble aspirations which need data to effectively argue the case.

In the owner-operated projects with which our company has been involved, they see the ramifications of the decisions made during the construction phase as legacy choices they will never escape. How the building lasts over the year, how much it costs to operate and maintain, how adaptable it is to new technology developments of the future, and how the occupants fare within its walls will never go away.

All participants in the different channels of the built environment are challenged to up the ante in today’s construction environment. We have to make higher performance façades more marketable for developers and to work more collaboratively with channel partners to make the many impacts of product selection of higher performance better understood.

And for George, our good friend and customer, we need to have these great discussions more often.

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