The under rated role of insulation when it comes to sustainability

13 April 2021 Kingspan Insulation Asia

Five years ago, I was working in a completely different industry from the one that I am working in today and have a background in Mechanical Engineering, not construction and building design. However, I at least had a solid technical base and years of business development experience across the Asia Pacific region under my belt. When I started my role with Kingspan in 2017 as Regional Sales Manager for Asia, I had a lot to learn about insulation, the construction industry, green building design, the circular economy and sustainability.

So, it went that over the last four years I have been working hard, studying, learning and immersing myself into the industry, absorbing as much as I possibly could. I am just a stone’s throw away from becoming a LEED Green Associate and I have really gotten to know a lot of great people across the entire kaleidoscope of the construction industry in Asia. What a wonderful industry that we all work in! For the first time, I truly feel that the work I am doing is really making a difference contributing to not just the construction industry, but to the world. The same can be said for Kingspan with the launch of the Planet Passionate programme in 2020, a 10-year group wide global sustainability strategy targeting three big global issues: climate change, circularity and protection of our natural world.

When you look at the global CO2 emissions by sector, Building Operations, Building Materials and Construction are responsible for a whopping 39% of global CO2 emissions! Each of us working in the industry have between us a shared responsibility for these numbers and with that, an obligation to do something about it.

Kingspan Digital Academy - Net Zero
Our mission at Kingspan is to accelerate a net zero emissions future with the wellbeing of people and planet at its heart. In my role, I feel very much connected to this mission through the work that I am doing in supporting architects, engineers and consultants to design building envelopes with sustainability and energy efficiency in mind by specifying insulation.

One of the most surprising things that I found during my journey and immersion in the industry was the very common under rated role of insulation in the sustainability picture. Almost every nation in South East Asia lacks stringent requirements on the use of insulation in building envelopes. Usually, roofs are well insulated with materials like extruded polystyrene, but the walls are pretty much forgotten about.

Building envelopes are not as energy efficient as they could be. Each time I look at a building, I can almost feel the energy wastage just leaking out. In Singapore, we love air conditioning, in fact we cannot live without it. So, in almost every building here in Singapore we have a perpetual energy battle going on between the hot external climate working its way through the uninsulated walls, whilst the energy hungry air conditioning system pumps cold air into the building, pushing back the heat energy trying to absorb through the external building envelope.
Passive design strategies aim at achieving thermal comfort using as little active cooling and heating as possible. Techniques such as shading and positioning the buildings orientation so that it receives a minimal amount of heat gain through the suns rays work, but is it enough in tropical regions? In my opinion I would say no because by 2040, air-conditioning could account for up to 40% of ASEAN’s overall electricity demand, up from 25%. Clearly more needs to be done to reduce energy consumption of air conditioning systems.

As an example, the Singapore government recently released their updated Green Plan 2030, which outlines green targets for the next 10 years. The ambitious plan has the aim of achieving net-zero emissions “as soon as viable in the second half of the century”.

If we are to achieve net zero energy, we need to seriously reduce the amount of energy consumed by our buildings and one of the easiest ways to do this is by reducing the energy consumed by our air conditioning. Companies who make the air conditioning systems work hard already to bring more energy efficient air con systems to the market and they are doing a great job as technology advances all the time. However, this is treating the symptom and not the cause. The problem is that our buildings are not insulated so the heat from outside is constantly trying to attack our comfortable air-conditioned homes and workspaces.
Kingspan Digital Academy - Solar panels
In Singapore, the need for energy use reduction is even more important in the journey towards net zero energy. Why? Because we are a small nation with limited space and resources. It is not possible to meet all our renewable energy needs with things like solar alone, because there simply is not enough land to build the infrastructure. Therefore, insulation will play a critical role in the future helping to seriously reduce the energy consumed by our buildings.

To make a big difference we are working hard to convince the industry to create buildings with thermally efficient building envelopes. Ideally this should be legislated for mandatory requirement as it is in Europe and Australia. However, whilst the legislation takes a while to catch up, we can all work to future-proof our buildings against what will inevitably be essential for achieving our future energy efficiency goals. A well-insulated building envelope will prevent the heat transmission into the building to begin with and we will not need to use air conditioning quite so much. We will be able to drive down the percentage that is used by air conditioning by simply insulating our buildings.

I often tell my team that our biggest competitor in the insulation industry is not another company. Our biggest competitor is no insulation at all. This is also the biggest nemesis to the future sustainability goals of all the countries around the world.

At Kingspan Insulation we are here to support all the stakeholders in the industry who have an influence on building design. We are here to help you with the design and specification of appropriately selected insulation materials that will help create a more energy efficient building envelope. We will be pleased to help you with things like Thermal Performance Computations, Condensation Risk Analysis and support on material selection, specification and installation.

We look forward to working with all our partners in the industry to work towards building more sustainable green buildings!


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