How much progress has been made in achieving net zero buildings? And will this approach help us meet our Paris Climate Change Agreement commitment of net zero emissions by 2050?
A Net Zero-Energy Building is one that is highly efficient and operates on renewable energy to achieve net zero operating carbon emissions. A nearly Zero-Energy Building is one with very high energy performance, supplemented with renewable energy. In recent years there has been a shift toward achieving nearly Zero-Energy Buildings, particularly in Europe.
Currently, buildings account for 40 per cent of the world’s energy consumption and contribute to half of the world’s greenhouse gases. Net zero is just one of many target and rating tools to address energy consumption in buildings. It’s an aggressive strategy, but given our urgent need to reduce energy consumption, maybe that’s what we need. The investments and technology advancements achieved whilst striving for a net zero building have a flow on benefit for the incremental changes necessary in our existing building stock.
According to recent calculations, forward electricity contract prices have more than doubled in the past two years to $100/MWh for commercial businesses, and there are no signs that spot prices will go down in the near future.
In 2016, 17.3 per cent of Australia’s energy was sourced from renewal sources, with hydro and wind providing over 70 per cent of renewable generation. Some 18.3 per cent of renewable generation was from solar PV, but almost all of that was small scale installations. Solar generation is widely accepted in the Australian residential sector, with the highest percentage of rooftop solar installations of any country, estimated at 16 per cent of homes.
However, our total solar PV generation still lags behind many countries, with Japan alone producing more than four times as much solar energy as Australia. Government policy has driven the uptake of small household installations, but without clear policy and regulatory signals, large-scale installation has not yet been achieved.
In addressing clean energy generation as well as energy efficiency, Net-Zero can help drive progress. Instead of waiting for a policy signal or new power generation assets to stabilise grid electricity prices, architects, building owners and facility managers are taking the initiative to secure greater energy independence by incorporating renewable energy generation, either on or off site. According to the Climate Council, solar PV installations could generate a third of Australia’s current total power generation capacity in the next 20 years.
An example of this in practice is the recent Barangaroo South urban renewal project in Sydney which, at completion, will be one of the first precincts globally to be carbon neutral. The project has been awarded a 6 Star Green Star by the Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA) scoring an unprecedented 104.98 out of a possible 110 points – measuring performance across five impact categories: Governance, Innovations, Liveability, Economic Prosperity and the Environment.
To achieve this feat, the project includes centralised sustainable infrastructure such as Sydney Harbour water cooling, embedded electricity networks, recycled water treatment plants and importantly, on-site renewable energy generation in the form of a large solar power station spread across the rooftops of the various buildings in the precinct.
Similarly, another recent building project in Victoria - Pixel - achieved worldwide recognition as the first building ever to achieve a perfect Green Star score. This was achieved in part because of its incredible ability to produce its power needs onsite through the combination of an extensive photovoltaic array on the roof and the application of the most efficient 1kW wind turbines in production.
Not just for new buildings
Net zero is not only achievable in new developments. The iconic, heritage listed Sydney Opera House is targeting net zero by 2023. Their current strategies to move towards this ambitious target include on site energy storage, fault detection on HVAC equipment, and peer to peer renewable energy sharing. Crucially, the Sydney Opera House will collaborate with CSIRO to not just meet its own carbon neutral goals but test emerging technologies that may benefit both commercial buildings and households.
The journey toward Net (or nearly) Zero
For those considering a move towards net (or nearly) zero in their facilities, the time to start is now. Each month of delay only results in further lost savings opportunities and unnecessary expenditure on energy bills.
As a first step, gaining an understanding of your current energy consumption will demonstrate the severity of the situation and identify possible energy savings within your current infrastructure to save dollars in the long run. This could involve easily achievable and non-intrusive upgrades or maintenance like sealing and improving insulation, moving to LED lighting or repairing HVAC faults.
By investing in smart power metering and better building management systems, a facility manager will be able to identify areas where energy can be saved through efficiency rather than having to be recouped through on-site generation or through costly financial carbon off-setting.
Every kwH saved through efficiency counts in the battle toward net zero.