11 March 2021
Net Zero Buildings
If the UK is to meet its Government set target of being net zero by 2050 then all organisations already need to be in the process of reducing their emissions. From assessing their product offerings, supply chains, transport and production, all areas within an organisation need to be looked at, including all of the buildings that an organisation uses or manages.
The number of businesses and organisations committed to achieving zero-carbon buildings according to The World Green Building Council (WorldGBC) grows year on year as more organisations recognise the need for immediate action this number is promisingly increasing every year. However, the built environment currently contributes 40% of the UK’s total carbon footprint alone so reducing this to zero is a huge challenge that needs to be tackled head-on. For many businesses the challenge is often knowing where to start.
What is a Net Zero building?
Before beginning any new project, it important to know where you need to get to. According to the WorldGBC, the definition of a net zero building is “a building that is highly energy efficient and fully powered from on-site and/or off-site renewable energy”. The key to success is finding the perfect balance between the energy being consumed and the energy that is generated through renewable sources.
How does an existing building differ from a brand new one?
Whilst the definition of what a net zero building is clear, there are some differences in the way that this can be measured depending on whether a building already exists or is in the process of being built.
The UKGBC’s net zero carbon buildings framework sets out definitions and principles around two approaches to net zero carbon, which are of equal importance:
Net zero carbon – construction (1.1): “When the amount of carbon emissions associated with a building’s product and construction stages up to practical completion is zero or negative, through the use of offsets or the net export of on-site renewable energy.”
Net zero carbon – operational energy (1.2): “When the amount of carbon emissions associated with the building’s operational energy on an annual basis is zero or negative. A net zero carbon building is highly energy efficient and powered from on-site and/or off-site renewable energy sources, with any remaining carbon balance offset.
For most organisations, focusing on reducing operational energy will be the main task as not all will be looking to build something from scratch, however, if this is something that your business is about to embark on it is worth taking the time to measure the carbon emissions associated in the construction as this will help manage the process of getting it down to zero.
Increasing energy efficiency through optimisation
For those that have no plans to construct a new building, it is expected that almost 90% of the existing building stock in the UK will still be in use in 2050, and so there is considerable focus on what can be done to improve the energy efficiency of existing buildings.
The first step on the road to energy efficiency is understanding your current usage, and the ways in which it can be reduced. Without having these benchmark figures in place, it is near impossible to optimise your energy consumption in any meaningful way.
There are so many ways that this can be achieved but here are a few first steps:
Optimising your energy consumption is a continuous process of improvement. Over time buildings change, how people use them changes and the amount of energy required will need to adapt. Therefore, making sure that you are regularly reviewing the data and analysing any fluctuations in consumption will ensure that your organisation stays on the path to achieving net zero.
Increasing renewable energy supply
Once a plan of optimisation is in place, the next step is to increase the amount of renewable energy being sourced. Renewable energy sources make up 26% of the world’s electricity today, but according to the Internal Energy Agency its share is expected to reach 30% by 2024.
For some organisations moving to on-site renewable energy generation by harnessing either wind or solar power is a great way of ensuring supply for years to come and gaining independence from the main power grid.
However, the WorldGBC acknowledge that generating 100% of an organisation’s energy needs on-site is not possible for the vast majority of organisations that don’t have access to land or roof space, therefore, relying on external sources for renewable energy will be the only option.
Making sure you are a renewable energy tariff is the first step towards achieving this, but another option is to look at Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) which are contracts between a seller of electricity and a buyer of electricity. These contracts are usually long-term and deal specifically with the sale and purchase of renewable energy. PPAs can help your organisation lock in long-term pricing for power helping to manage the risk of volatile power markets and generate savings across your energy bills.
What gets measured, gets managed
If the UK is going to achieve its net zero ambitions, the key is to focus on optimising the energy we use and increasing our use of renewable energy supplies. Understanding where your business is currently with regards to its carbon emissions is the first step needed, from there a road map of improvement can be developed and implemented with progress being made towards achieving net zero buildings.