Smart Buildings

Towards Net-Zero Buildings – Legislation for a Sustainable Energy Future

“The window for tackling the climate crisis is closing quickly, meaning incremental measures are no longer enough. We must go beyond decarbonizing power generation and concentrate our efforts on electrifying heat and transport, as well as improving energy efficiency. It is absolutely critical that, in addition to better sourcing of energy, we focus efforts on the better use of energy,” says Michael Lewis, UK chief executive of German electric utility company E.ON. “To create the energy system of the future, we must use the momentum created by renewable generation to move forward and decarbonize heat and transport. Only then can we get closer towards reaching the net-zero carbon target and protecting our planet for future generations. Put simply, if we act now and act decisively the climate crisis can be turned into a transformative opportunity,” continued Lewis in the article published on Edie.net on his net-zero ambitions for the UK. Even before the Paris Climate […]

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“The window for tackling the climate crisis is closing quickly, meaning incremental measures are no longer enough. We must go beyond decarbonizing power generation and concentrate our efforts on electrifying heat and transport, as well as improving energy efficiency. It is absolutely critical that, in addition to better sourcing of energy, we focus efforts on the better use of energy,” says Michael Lewis, UK chief executive of German electric utility company E.ON.

“To create the energy system of the future, we must use the momentum created by renewable generation to move forward and decarbonize heat and transport. Only then can we get closer towards reaching the net-zero carbon target and protecting our planet for future generations. Put simply, if we act now and act decisively the climate crisis can be turned into a transformative opportunity,” continued Lewis in the article published on Edie.net on his net-zero ambitions for the UK.

Even before the Paris Climate Accord, the UK was taking big steps to reduce its contribution to climate change. The UK introduced the Climate Change Act in 2008, it was the first major economy in the world to pass laws to end its contribution to global warming, and the environmental performance of buildings is central to the strategy. Non-exempt buildings in the UK, for example, require a minimum energy performance rating as part of the MEES standard, while duties placed on heat suppliers demand they work with consumers to implement cleaner, more efficient heating systems.

In October 2018, The UK Green Building Council (UKGBC) convened an industry task group to develop a definition for net zero carbon buildings in the UK. The framework was set out in an April 2019 report. It is intended as a first step toward delivering buildings in line with the aims of the Paris Agreement. The 25-page report acts as a guide for those looking to achieve net-zero with their own properties and sets out two clear definitions of “net-zero carbon” for building construction and operation.

Net-zero carbon – construction: “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: “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.”

“The framework set out in this report is intended as a first step towards delivering buildings that are in line with the aims of the Paris Agreement – namely net-zero carbon across the whole life of a building. In practice, however, such an ambition would be challenging to deliver today without more accurate measurement and data of emissions,” Julie Hirigoyen, Chief Executive of UKGBC. So, the framework presented here refers to two definitions for net-zero carbon buildings, which should be adopted by any organization involved in the built environment that is serious about climate change mitigation.”

While achieving this status can be a challenge for existing, older building stock, it appears to be having the desired impact on greenfield developments. This month, UK developers Ssassy Property announced they will be building the country’s first net-zero-energy neighborhood. Springfield Meadows in Abingdon, Oxfordshire, includes 25 new two to five bedroom homes built by construction partner Greencore utilizing Passivhaus energy efficiency standards.

Springfield Meadows will be 100% solar-powered, supported by energy storage, in addition to the highly-efficient residences. A mechanical ventilation and heat recovery (MVHR) system, will provide fresh, warm air by capturing the heat from the exhaust air from the house, and low carbon heat pumps will serve under-floor heating and domestic hot water. In construction, Biond, a low-carbon closed panel timber frame construction system, will achieve Passivhaus Air-tightness levels below 1 air change per hour, and Kebony timber cladding provides an environmentally-friendly form of sustainable softwood.

Large corporations are also subject to the UK’s climate policies, forced to be part of the ambitious net-zero targets, albeit gently. The Energy Savings Opportunity Scheme (ESOS) is an EU directive adopted into UK law that makes it mandatory for businesses with over 250 employees or annual turnover of €50 million to undertake periodic energy assessments and compliance with government recommendations. ESOS phase one concluded in 2015 and big businesses will have one compliance before the deadline for ESOS phase 2 on December 5th, 2019.

“The time has also come for businesses to take measures to eliminate waste and unnecessary emissions. Whether through small changes such as installing energy-efficient LED lighting throughout company buildings, or through larger undertakings such as implementing a BMS, there is a host of options available to businesses to help reduce their carbon footprint,” says Lewis of E.ON.

“The increasing adoption of energy efficiency and smart building technologies such as solar and batteries, heat pumps, electric vehicle infrastructure, smart thermostats and home energy management systems by communities, businesses and individuals will continue to lift the UK closer towards a sustainable energy future.”

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