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hen it comes to renewable energies such as solar, wind and biomass, Europe has often led the way. In 2009 Japan reintroduced subsidies for solar cell installation and followed the European example with a feed-in tariff allowing homeowners to sell surplus electricity back to power companies. But Japan, the world’s third-largest construction sector, still lags far behind Europe and its Asian rivals when it comes to creating energy-efficient buildings. Take your windows. While strict regulations in Europe mean high-efficiency “low-e” double glazing has long been the norm, single glazing still satisfies building standards in most of Japan. Low-e (glass coated to retain heat) double glazing is around six times more efficient than single panes. Yet despite being greener and more cost-effective in the long term, builders are often put off by its higher initial cost. If you live in Japan, the chances are that you have only singleglazed windows. Then there is your insulation. With approximately 35% of heat loss in a typical house going through its walls, insulating your home well is one of the cheapest and most effective ways of saving energy and reducing CO2 emissions. As with glazing, however, Japan’s insulation standards fall far short of those in Europe. They are also less stringent than in China and South Korea. To put that gap in perspective, Guy Prendergast, former vice-chair of the EBC Construction Committee, believes 80% of Japanese buildings would likely fail to get a building permit somewhere like Germany or France. “Japanese buildings are well-engineered to cope with earthquakes, but they could also be better engineered to cope better with heat and cold. That we are still building un-insulated buildings is a criminal waste of resources,” Prendergast adds. So why are Japanese standards lagging? You need to consider the historical and climatic context, says Gordon Hatton, chair of the EBC Construction Committee and viceAverage life of housing 80 70

77 years

60 50

the cabinet office

40

55 years

30 20 10 0

30 years Japan

United States

United Kingdom

The perception of the merits of proper building insulation remains low Gordon Hatton, EBC Construction Committee chair

president of Pembroke Real Estate Japan. With the most populated areas of Japan enjoying a relatively temperate climate, heating and air conditioning are unnecessary during much of the year. “A degree of patience and a kotatsu would traditionally have got people through the relatively short cold periods of winter, while natural ventilation provided relief from the mid-summer heat,” Hatton says. “The perception of the merits of proper building insulation remains low.” Consider too that the construction industry has typically focused its engineering research, code refinement and project budgeting on the mitigation of seismic and fire risks. It has been hard to promote regulatory improvements or convince industry and consumers to change, says Hatton. But it isn’t just green materials that are under used. Energy-management technology is too. Many office buildings, for instance, lack flexible control systems. If you work in an office where a single switch controls the air conditioning for an entire floor, consider how much more efficient it would be with an improved control system. Something as simple as being able to adjust the air-conditioning room by room or workspace by workspace would substantially cut running costs and emissions, and for very little investment. Yet things could soon improve. Hatton says an increasing awareness of energy issues may bring about more opportunities to address insulation and other passive means of making buildings comfortable and environmentally friendly. Paul Goudeau, president and representative director of Saint-Gobain HanGlas Japan, says change has already begun. “With the Windows 25 working group, for example, Japan’s window industry is now trying to create new industry standards, while looking for solutions to energyefficiency issues together,” he says. “On the government level there is also a great political desire to become a more energy-efficient country, and an awareness that construction is an area where great progress can be made.” Then-prime minister Yukio Hatoyama pledged to lower Japan’s CO2 emissions by 25% from 1990 levels by 2020. With 30% of Japan’s CO2 emissions coming through buildings, this is one area where the government is expected to look for more reductions. October 2010

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EURObiZ Japan October 2010  

EURObiZ Japan October 2010

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