5 strategies to consider to achieve a net zero building (NZB)

What do you think contributes more to Canada’s carbon emissions: passenger cars or buildings? Surprisingly, the answer is buildings. Buildings, specifically the energy used to heat and cool them, recently accounted for 12.7% of Canada’s carbon emissions while passenger cars accounted for 4.8% (Source: Environment and Climate Change Canada).

Without proactive steps taken to reduce the carbon emissions associated with buildings, Canada will not meet its commitment to achieving net zero emissions by 2050. The good news, however, is that almost every building owner can help reduce carbon emissions by understanding what net zero means, establishing a goal to reduce carbon emissions, and applying solutions that help make progress towards the defined reduction target.

What is a net zero building (NZB)?

Defining the goal of an NZB impacts the design approach to achieving a specific outcome, energy and carbon are two main efficiency goals for a NZB. A net zero energy (NZE) building generates 100% of energy needs on-site. A net zero carbon (NZC) building is a highly energy efficient and supplies energy needs from renewable sources that do not necessarily have to be located on-site, reducing both cost and logistical barriers to building more sustainable buildings. (Source: World Green Building Council). Canada was the first to launch a dedicated building standard establishing carbon emissions from buildings as a key building performance indicator.

Here are five things to consider when you’re planning for a net zero building (NZB).

1. Upfront Embodied Carbon

Whether you’re building a new building or retrofitting an existing one, one of the top contributors to a building’s carbon footprint is the carbon emitted by building materials and their production (Source: Canada Green Building Council). Minimizing building materials’ carbon emissions, even before they reach the job site, requires a proactive approach to sourcing, transporting, and handling building materials prior to and during the construction process.

As a first step, consider working with suppliers, vendors, and manufacturers who have sustainable practices embedded in their processes. Additionally, you can also consider applying innovative approaches to construction like prefabrication, virtual design and construction, and modular construction, among others. In these three approaches (prefabrication, VDC, and modular construction), the first step of building happens off-site, in a controlled environment where issues can be detected and resolved before they arise.

2. Lighting

LED has become the standard for new construction delivering energy efficiency and reducing the use of hazardous material usage. Not only does LED lighting help reduce upfront embodied carbon attributed to construction, but it also has a longer lifespan and enables integration with other buildings systems, resulting in operational efficiencies based on occupancy and ambient light. For retrofit applications, LED lighting can substantially reduce energy consumption in comparison to fluorescent and other legacy lighting solutions.

3. Heating and Cooling

Keeping building occupants comfortable throughout Canada’s changing seasons consumes significant amounts of energy and results in equally significant amounts of carbon emissions. Fortunately, certain technology advancements in HVAC systems help keep building occupants comfortable and reduce carbon emissions.

These technologies aim to reduce green house gas (GHG) emissions by electrifying the source of energy used for heating and cooling. Across many provinces in Canada, building owners are also incentivized to reduce their natural gas consumption in favour of electrical energy. This can be achieved by using HVAC technologies like heat pumps & geothermal energy to heat effectively. If a NZB has large cooling systems, it’s also important to leverage free cooling with the use of air-cooled chillers to minimize energy consumption. Many buildings require heating and cooling at the same time; a heat recovery chiller is one solution to effectively support the sharing of loads inside your facility.

Additionally, better controlling your building’s humidity can help lower its overall heating and cooling needs and the energy consumption associated with it. For example, using liquid desiccant dehumidification units supports air cooling and uses less energy than alternative dehumidification systems

4. Renewable, On-Site, Behind-the-Meter Generation

Building design must now consider the interplay of drawing power from the grid and sending power back to ensure the exchanges provide measurable carbon reductions. For example, a building’s design can aim to reduce and shift peak electricity demand to minimize consumption at times when fossil fuels are being used to meet grid power generation needs. Generating energy from renewable sources on-site offers a path to reducing carbon emissions from buildings located in areas with high-carbon electricity grids. They can also be effective in low-carbon grids provided they displace fossil fuel fired power generation typically used to meet peak demand.

There are many ways to implement on site renewable generation at your facility. Ground or roof mounted solar panels are the most common. There are also newer solar options on the market that can open and close and track the sun to maximize the amount of energy generation during a given day.

When considering renewable energy generation, storage of the energy needs to be factored into the design. In some parts of Canada, building owners can supply the electrical grid with renewable solar energy through a net-metering agreement, where the building owner becomes a clean energy distributor for the local distribution company. Another strategy is to install on site batteries to store the generated power for use by the same building. Either option is suitable for a wide variety of building types in Canada.

5. Technology

Building system management is at the precipice of change, driven by the rapid pace of IoT, AI, and technology innovation ushering in a connected future. IoT sensors are allowing HVAC equipment to communicate 24/7 with building automation systems. Thousands of data points from these sensors can now be analyzed instantaneously with the help of AI and Machine Learning to make sense of a building’s health. Incorporating technology provides building owners with greater flexibility and control. This not only allows for an optimal operation of the building, but also helps reduce the building’s carbon footprint through programs like Demand Response (DR) that reduce electricity use at peak periods.

As you begin to take steps towards reducing carbon emissions in pursuit of a net zero building (NZB), it is incredibly important to rely on an experienced, results-driven team in the design of your facility’s building systems.

Contact Modern Niagara’s Energy Solutions team to reduce your building’s carbon emissions today! Email Us