Net zero: the greenest building imaginable

The commercial and public sectors account for around a third of the UK's buildings-related emissions, meaning there is significant progress to be made when constructing or refurbishing non-domestic properties so they don't waste energy or contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. That said, understanding the quality standards that are involved can feel like a challenge.

Today's gold standard is the net zero carbon building, generally defined as a building powered entirely by renewable, carbon-free sources of energy, whether that's produced on-site or purchased from an off-site source.

As of 2017, only an estimated 500 commercial buildings worldwide (plus 2,000 residential buildings) have met the net zero standard. So this represents the cutting-edge of sustainable, environmentally-friendly property development.

In January of this year, E.ON was appointed the energy partner to Gravity, the UK's first commercial smart campus on 635 acres of land in Bridgewater, Somerset. Taking the campus entirely off the electrical grid, E.ON will provide an on-site, integrated energy service through lower carbon and resilient power, heating and cooling systems.

At the heart of it

On a practical level, the basic strategy is surprisingly simple and applies to both single- and multi-building projects:

  • Design buildings that consume the least amount of energy possible, such as by using passive cooling systems.
  • When possible, install on-site power generation systems that draw upon carbon-free renewable sources of energy.
  • If complete on-site power generation is not possible, make up the difference by contracting with off-site suppliers of carbon-free renewable sources of energy.
  • Create a monitoring and record-keeping system that allows the building's owners or tenants to report (if required) how much energy it produces and consumes via carbon-free versus carbon-emitting sources.
  • If 100% carbon-free renewable energy isn't possible, explore the feasibility of acquiring energy offsets from more successful projects to make up the difference.

Buildings that successfully implement this strategy meet the net zero energy standard.

Going even further, an alternative definition of net zero exists called embodied carbon or whole life. It includes not just the energy used to power a building, but the embodied carbon emissions produced during the fabrication of building materials, use of construction equipment and other aspects of the building's entire life cycle. While this broader standard is somewhat more challenging, you can still meet it by allowing the building to produce enough extra carbon-free electricity to offset those embodied emissions.

How to fund a net zero project

Funding for net zero projects can prove challenging and may involve a mixture of traditional sources, such as equity or debt funding, and innovative strategies, such as crowdfunding, green bonds and government grants. One new resource to keep an eye on is the Coalition for the Energy Efficiency of Buildings (CEEB), which seeks to develop the market for financing net-zero carbon and climate-resilient buildings in the UK.

Around 19% of all emissions in the UK come from heating our buildings, with nearly a quarter of this from commercial and public buildings. The government has mandated by law that the country achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Net zero building construction represents a vital component of this goal, so landowners, businesses, developers and contractors can all contribute to the greening of the UK.



Posted by E.ON June 2020