The Journey to Net Zero
In 2019 the UK became the first major economy to legislate and commit to net zero carbon emissions by 2050. And, in April 2021 the UK Government accelerated that timeline, announcing an even more ambitious climate change target of achieving a 78% cut in emissions by 2035.
Commercial buildings in the UK are responsible for a significant proportion of greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, research shows that buildings in the EU account for around 40 percent of total energy use and are responsible for some 36 percent of greenhouse gas emissions.
A typical HVAC system uses around 39 percent of a building’s total energy consumption, and it’s estimated that around 75 percent of buildings in the EU are energy inefficient, meaning a large part of the energy used goes to waste, creating unnecessary carbon emissions.
Whole life carbon emissions
The emissions attributed to a building across its lifetime are known as whole life carbon emissions and are commonly split into operational and embodied.
Operational emissions are associated with the energy required to run a building, including the energy used to provide lighting, power, heating, cooling, ventilation, and water services.
Embodied emissions are associated with all the non-operational aspects of a building including those from the extraction, manufacture and assembly of a building’s materials and components, its repair, maintenance and refurbishment, and end of life activities.
Reaching net zero
Achieving net zero emissions will require a range of measures and a coordinated effort from building owners, tenants, and policymakers. In 2020, the UK Government released a 10-point plan to reach net zero that includes:
- Advancing offshore wind
- Driving growth of low carbon hydrogen
- Delivering new and advanced nuclear power
- Accelerating move to zero emission vehicles
- Green public transport and active travel
- Green planes and ships
- Greener buildings
- Carbon capture, usage, and storage
- Protecting the natural environment
- Green finance and innovation
Government policies and spending brought forward in the 2021 Net Zero Strategy mean that since the Ten Point Plan, the Government has mobilised £26 billion of government capital investment for the green industrial revolution.
And, its most recent paper, released in May 2023, Powering up Britain – Delivering Energy Security and Net Zero, sets out how the government will enhance our country’s energy security, seize the economic opportunities of the transition, and deliver on its net zero commitments.
Here are the key steps that can be taken to reduce emissions and achieve net zero in commercial buildings:
Improving the energy efficiency of buildings is a critical first step in reducing emissions. This can include measures such as improving insulation, upgrading HVAC systems, and installing energy-efficient lighting and appliances. LEDs save around 80% of energy when replacing older technologies and even up to 50% when replacing more recent lighting technology.
With the introduction of the Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards (MEES), the UK government legislates that all commercial properties being let from 1 April 2023 should have a minimum EPC rating of an E. With an incremental increase to EPC rating C or higher expected by 1 April 2027, rising to a B or higher by 2030, many building owners and managers have already, or are starting to, future proof commercial buildings. See Evotech’s Top 5 Energy Saving Initiatives here, for some of the most effective ways to save energy.
Of course, finance is a key issue for many building owners and according to a recent survey, only one in ten businesses have any retrofit budget all – ‘Retrofit failure could spark new energy crisis, warns BESA’.
Increasing the use of renewable energy sources, such as solar, geothermal or wind power, can help to reduce reliance on fossil fuels and reduce emissions. This can include installing rooftop solar panels purchasing green energy from suppliers, or investing in on-site renewable energy generation.
Electrifying energy demand refers to using low-carbon electricity to meet energy needs that have traditionally come from fossil fuels. This can include replacing gas boilers with electric heat pumps, using electric vehicles for transportation, and replacing gas appliances with electric ones. However, it must be noted here that electricity in the UK is still currently (2023) significantly more expensive than gas, nevertheless, smart buildings can make savings through optimising energy use and the UK Government has pledged that by 2035 the UK will be powered entirely by cheap clean electricity.
Smart building technology
Recent advances in smart building technology are improving energy performance and reducing maintenance costs through remote analysis and better diagnostics. Building automation systems and sensor networks, can help to optimise building performance and reduce energy use. Optimising energy consumption by adjusting heating, cooling, and lighting levels based on occupancy and environmental factors can help to reduce energy waste and improve building energy efficiency.
Click here for more information on smart building technology and how Evotech’s myBEMS AI technology for commercial HVAC systems is making significant energy savings for commercial building owners and managers alike.
Using sustainable building materials, such as recycled or low-emission materials, can help to reduce the carbon footprint of new construction or renovation projects. The most widely used materials in construction globally are concrete, steel and timber. The embodied carbon impact of these materials varies depending on the source, the production and installation process, the volume of material used, and the opportunities for recycling. Reduced carbon construction materials include locally and sustainably sourced timber and stone, Portland cement-free concrete, and recycled or re-used steel.
Many experts say that the most significant carbon savings can be achieved by not building new, and that retrofitting and re-purposing of existing buildings should be prioritised where possible.
Carbon offsetting involves investing in projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions in order to offset the emissions from commercial buildings. This can include investing in reforestation projects or renewable energy development.
Achieving net zero emissions in commercial buildings will require a concerted effort from building owners, tenants, and policymakers alike. The UK government has set a target for net zero emissions by 2050 and has introduced a range of policies and incentives to encourage the transition to low-carbon buildings.
If you would like help in your journey to net zero, contact John Lumb or Richard Watts on 0333 207 4245.