Energy efficiency: key trends and innovations

By Margaux Cervatius - 06 September 2021

Energy efficiency is one of the priorities of the green energy transition. It is increasingly seen as a way to achieve a sustainable energy supply and reduce greenhouse gas emissions while boosting the economy and competitiveness of countries.

The European Union has established a common framework of measures to promote energy efficiency. In 2007, EU leaders set a target to cut the annual energy consumption of the EU by 20% by 2020. In 2018, a new target was set to reduce energy consumption by at least 32.5% by 2030. This directive provides energy saving measures to be applied by all member states. Each state can also implement its own additional measures to meet the pressing demand of citizens. Indeed, in the past few years we have seen an increased awareness of the climate crisis, strengthened by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Source: I4CE, from Eurostat and the European Commission, 2020

In this context, many startups are emerging to facilitate energy efficiency improvements. They enable individuals and businesses to adopt better energy consumption practices. In this article, we explore the key trends and innovations that startups are bringing to the energy efficiency space.

Optimising the energy efficiency of buildings

Overall, buildings are responsible for about 40% of the EU’s total energy consumption. That’s why an important part of the EU directive focuses on the energy performance of buildings. The directive includes a strategy for a “wave of renovations” to reduce the energy consumption of all existing buildings. The EU wants to achieve an energy-efficient and decarbonised building stock in every member state by 2050.

Some startups offer energy performance auditing tools for existing buildings. However, most focus on optimising the energy efficiency of new buildings. BIM (building information modelling) technology is increasingly used in the construction industry. It provides access to data, information and tools for planning and designing buildings. These tools help construction players optimise the energy efficiency of buildings upstream. For example, they can:

  • determine the best orientation in relation to the sun to benefit from natural light
  • select the most insulating materials
  • choose the best interior room layout for ventilation flows…

Leveraging the potential of renewable energy

The EU directive also requires that all new buildings have almost zero energy consumption. One of the solutions is therefore to produce renewable energy (geothermal, wind, solar…) within the buildings themselves. Solar panels can be integrated on the roof or on the facades. The integration takes place either at the time of construction or later to make an existing building greener. The panels produce clean energy as close as possible to the consumption site and limit transport-related losses.

SolarGaps, a Ukrainian startup rated by Early Metrics, develops smart solar blinds. These automatically adjust their angle according to the positioning of the sun. This helps optimise energy efficiency and shading levels, including remotely through a mobile app. Naked Energy, another startup rated by Early Metrics, designs solar thermal collectors that generate more energy and use less space than traditional generators. This means they can fit neatly into commercial and residential buildings.

SolarGaps blinds in Barcelona

Energy-friendly systems

Lastly, buildings must incorporate equipment and devices that are more energy-efficient, especially for heating. Indeed, heating represents two-thirds of the total energy consumed in old residential buildings in France. It is therefore essential to develop more efficient systems.

Condensing boilers collect the exhaust gases from the combustion of natural gas. They cool the fumes to create steam and condense it to generate thermal energy. These boilers consume 12 to 20% less energy than conventional oil-fueled systems.

Electrical equipment must also be more efficient, as lighting and household appliances represent 15% of the energy consumption in the residential sector. Energy-saving lamps (fluorescent or LED) consume 50% less energy than incandescent light bulbs. As for household appliances, energy labels guide consumers to identify the most energy-efficient appliances.

Monitoring and adjusting our energy consumption with intelligent systems

According to a study by ADEME, the French Environment and Energy Management Agency, 9 out of 10 French people change their daily habits to reduce their energy consumption. Startups are offering them tools to easily monitor their consumption and adopt more eco-friendly behaviours. For instance, Ecojoko, a startup rated by Early Metrics, develops a smart assistant to help individuals reduce their energy consumption. Thanks to a box connected to the circuit breaker, users can track their consumption in real-time. A mobile app helps them identify the most energy-intensive equipment and reduce their consumption. Users can then easily remember to unplug unused multimedia equipment, among other things. On the other hand, the startup DeltaQ offers building management software for professionals. Machine learning models analyse internal and external data to optimise energy consumption.

In addition to monitoring energy consumption, some startup solutions allow for optimal control. Thanks to sensors (of temperature, movement, CO2…) distributed across the building, thermostats adjust themselves autonomously. The startup Ogga, rated by Early Metrics, develops an IoT device plugged into the electrical panel and connected to a platform. It adjusts consumption based on the occupants’ habits. For example, the heating is turned on if they are about to return or, on the contrary, turned off if they are away. Users can also manage their equipment remotely through a mobile app.

Adopting circular economy in the energy sector

The circular economy is one of the cornerstones of the energy transition. This economic system of exchange and production aims to increase the efficiency of resource use and decrease the impact on the environment. When it comes to buildings, it is possible to produce energy in a circular way.

Tapping into waste heat

Qarnot Computing, a French startup, has developed the first computing heater. Its solution consists of embedded microprocessors that remotely perform computations via the Internet for banks, industrial players, 3D animation studios… The heat generated by these calculations is then used to heat the building. This solution greatly reduces the computing carbon footprint while providing free and eco-friendly heating. Qarnot has a high growth potential and ranks in the top 10% of startups rated by Early Metrics.

Swedish startup Enjay, on the other hand, has created the Lepido heat exchanger for restaurant and food factory ventilation. Its solution is protected by two exclusive patents and prevents grease and soot particles from getting stuck in the heat exchanger. The recovered energy can then be used for heating and cooling processes. You can read more about Enjay and other similar startups in our white paper on the decarbonisation of the food industry.

Recycling waste into energy

Other startups are developing solutions to recycle waste. This reduces the amount of waste that needs to be disposed of while generating energy in an environmentally friendly way. Swedish startup C-Green has developed the OxyPower HTC™ technology, which combines wet oxidation and hydrothermal carbonisation (HTC). It sterilises wet organic waste and transforms it into renewable energy and useful products (HTC biocoal, phosphorus and nitrogen). C-Green claims that its technology can prevent the emission of up to 200 kg CO2-eq/ton of sludge saved from storage and composting.

Other startups target individuals at home. Israeli startup HomeBiogas sells a small home digester capable of converting household waste (food scraps, peelings, spoiled vegetables or fruits…) into renewable gas. According to the startup, two kilos of waste can provide enough gas to cook for two hours. The system developed by HERU transforms everyday waste, including paper cups and diapers, into energy using pyrolysis. This energy is then fed into the boiler to heat water in a sustainable way.

Heru’s system explained

Reducing energy consumption at all levels

The bottom line is simple: our economy must reduce its dependence on energy in order to be sustainable. Companies and individuals alike must cut their energy consumption, not only to protect the environment but also to limit their expenses. Energy efficiency has therefore become key for companies to remain attractive and competitive. Startups can provide innovative solutions to help corporates better control and reduce their energy consumption. As a result, these collaborations will help reconcile economic and environmental performance.

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