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February 22, 2017

Upcoming Advancements Set to Further Improve Home Energy Efficiency

As one of Canada’s leading builders of green, energy-efficient homes – and one of Western Canada’s only net-zero home builders – we are very interested in new technologies and developments in the space.

We are quite excited by the pace of change. From solar power, to material design, to energy storage, the industries that play key roles in the advancement of green homes are all undergoing rapid development.

In this post we are going to highlight two important processes – energy generation via solar and heating/cooling efficiency – and some exciting innovations happening within each!

Solar Power: Getting More Efficient & Affordable Every Day

As the world phases out carbon-based fuels – a process that will take decades to complete – we turn to solar power as the ideal source of clean energy.

Every day, the Sun blankets the Earth in as much energy – in the form of heat and light – needed to power the entire Earth for a year. Our ability to capture and make use of this energy is improving dramatically.

Of course, solar power is not a new development; scientists, engineers, and researchers have been working to improve the technology over the last several decades.

A New Solar Cell Achieves Record Efficiency

In late-2016, Australian researcher Dr. Mark Keevers and his colleagues successfully developed a new solar cell configuration that improved sunlight-to-electricity efficiency. This improvement resulted in solar cells with 34.5% efficiency (compared to top-end averages of around 22%).

Solar is Becoming Price Competitive All Over the World

A valid criticism of solar energy has always been its cost per kilowatt hour. Compared to fossil fuels, solar energy has indeed been more expensive in the past. However, this is no longer the case in many parts of the world.

A December 2016 comparison of energy costs demonstrated that new solar configurations could cost less than coal and natural gas. 2017 and onward may be a tipping point in the $/MWh conversation when comparing renewables to fossil fuels.

Rooftop Solar Gets Better Looking & More Efficient

The aesthetic demands of rooftop solar can take away from the look of a home. However, Tesla’s new Solar Roof – unveiled last year – look like a normal shingle roof. They are offered in four different styles – tuscan, slate, textured, and smooth – and blend into the aesthetic of your home.

Rooftop solar is already quite efficient. In fact, our Belgravia Green home has generated more power than it’s consumed every year since 2014. Read more at the Edmonton Journal: Belgravia home has energy to spare: Local company leads push toward net-zero energy. Even as efficient as current setups are, the solar roof represents a significant evolution in solar’s appeal.

Soon, the Solar Roof (and other products like it) will make rooftop solar a no-brainer as new and improved versions further drive down price while improving efficiency and reliability.

Promising New Materials May Drive Down Home Heating & Cooling Costs

Part of what makes a building energy efficient is how well it retains and regulates heat. In a prior article (What is a Net-Zero Energy Home?) we talked about how insulation and windows influence efficiency, and the importance that insulation plays overall.

This importance can’t be overstated: innovations in insulation and building materials are a foundational component of boosting overall building efficiency.

Engineered Materials That Help Regulate Heat Without Using Power

In an article released on February 9, 2017, a team from the University of Colorado at Boulder demonstrated a newly-engineered metamaterial – a material with properties not found in nature – that can radiate heat without using power to do so.

Described in an article on Science Daily, the applications of this new material sound promising: homes that cool themselves without needing to expend energy via traditional HVAC systems. This material also has potential applications for solar panels and may improve panel longevity and efficiency.

Next-Generation Foam Insulation For Residential Use

Once you have a space heated or cooled, energy use switches from using energy to get to temperature to using energy to stay at temperature. Reducing heat transfer via insulation and building techniques can pay off big in terms of efficiency.

Many companies and researchers are working on the next-generation of insulation. Projects like this one continue to push the envelope of residential insulation.

The Pace of Change is Quickening!

With the green revolution now progressing with incredible momentum, we are constantly looking for ways to bring the latest innovations to our homes.