Official Says DOE Foots Majority of the Risk in New Product DevelopmentNovember 2nd, 2021 by Drew Vass, Executive Editor
With Energy Star Version 7.0 hanging in the final phases of development, the National Fenestration Rating Council (NFRC) invited representatives from the Department of Energy (DOE), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) to provide updates last week, including a discussion about the technologies that might help door and window companies meet proposed criteria. Amid the Council’s Fall Membership Meetings, a session with Doug Anderson, program manager for EPA’s Energy Star Windows, Doors and Skylights programs, and Marc LaFrance, DOE’s Advanced Technology and Energy Policy manager, provided turn-for-turn updates, while LaFrance and NREL scientist Rob Tenent discussed insulating glass technologies.
Regarding the impetus for better performance, “We need something a lot better than R-3.3 if we’re going to address climate change,” LaFrance said. Despite decades of performance gains, “Here we are, after all of this, and we’re still looking at R-3,” he added.
When it comes to wasted energy, “Windows represent only 8% of the service area of a home, but 45% of the thermal loss,” LaFrance said. “So, if you care about climate change and about saving energy, then you have to look at windows.” The issue is more about the sum of the whole, he suggested, adding, “It might not be an individual consumer problem, but it’s certainly a national climate change problem.”
At a time when manufacturers eye expenses for new product development and manufacturing processes, the government’s role includes paving the way for those changes, LaFrance assured, including footing the costs for long-term research. “We generally will take on research that’s higher risk,” he said. Without those measures, “Manufacturers may want to see a return on investment within two to three years—five years at most,” he added. By providing up to 80% of the costs for initial research, the government assumes a major portion of the responsibilities for proof of concept, he said. Even with those added resources, the process is painstakingly slow, he suggested. “You’ll cringe when I say this, but a typical cycle in the building materials industry is really a generation,” LaFrance said. “It takes a full generation from concept to proof of design … Even when you get the product commercialized and you can go buy it, by the time that product becomes mainstream and ubiquitous, it takes 20 years.”
With numerous technologies still hung in that decades-long process, for the near term DOE officials say they expect standard triple-pane glass to be an immediate solution, though materials such as thin-triple glazing, aerogel, photovoltaic glass, dynamic glass and vacuum insulating glass are expected to eventually fill in, LaFrance and Tenent said. Even with that wider range of options, “no one magic bullet” will displace double pane insulating glass, they added. Instead, it’s more about having a “toolbox” of various IG form factors to employ, they suggested, in order to fill various product designs and scenarios.
Thin-triple glass is currently viewed as a near-term front runner, LaFrance said. Amid discussions about upgrading production lines to produce thin-triple insulating glass units, he said costs are expected to be minimal. “How much will the DOE be providing manufacturers for those upgrades?” one attendee echoed back.
After releasing Draft 1 of the proposed criteria in July, a comment period lasting through November elicited response from 40 individuals and companies, Anderson said. Comments ranged from “We think this is not far enough,” to “We have concerns and do not support,” he added. The program aims to have Draft 2 out by mid-December, Anderson said, quickly adding, “But I’m going to be pretty honest … that’s going to be a lot of work.” If things go as planned, a final draft will arrive in the first quarter of 2022, after which a final specification would be published in the first or second quarter of the same year. But, “The effective date is still to be determined,” Anderson said. “It will not be before January 1, 2023. But that’s still up in the air at this point.”