In the US, as in other parts of the world, there is a race to decarbonize. One of the places that the country is looking to decarbonize over the next decade most aggressively is commercial buildings. This offers significant potential in carbon intensity reduction and, according to experts, has the potential to pay early dividends.
Experts estimate that upgrading to high-efficiency heating appliances alone could eliminate seven percent of US greenhouse gas emissions if approached correctly.
This is a sizable impact and one that can be attained sooner and with comparatively less effort than other pathways to carbon neutrality. The approach can be further expanded to other existing commercial buildings and installations, helping the US meet its decarbonization goal.
When discussing decarbonizing infrastructure and buildings, it is worth highlighting two emissions categories. The first is referred to as embodied carbon. This means carbon from buildings, including emissions from construction materials, the construction process, and fittings within the structure.
Embodied carbon also covers emissions from the structure’s demolition and, consequently, debris disposal. All of which account for an estimated 12 percent of carbon emissions.
The second category is carbon emissions. It is primarily carbon that relates to the amount emitted when the building is operational. This operational carbon is responsible for between 28 and 30 percent of emissions.
Given that around 80% of the buildings we see now in the US will be around in 2050, the net-zero strategies that we use now and in upcoming buildings will make them more sustainable over decades. To understand the scale we are talking about, it’s important to note that commercial buildings rose by 40% with a 70% increase in floor space.
How Will Commercial Buildings Be Decarbonized?
It is vital to start by considering the carbon footprint of these commercial buildings to ascertain steps to greater energy efficiency. This will enable the owner and the operator of these existing buildings to implement practical decarbonization strategies while maintaining the quality of life for the people working there.
Ideally, the first step in decarbonization would be to reduce energy consumption while at the same time replacing all fossil fuel-based energy generation with their renewable counterparts.
There are, according to experts, four major steps to achieving these goals: measure, analyze, manage, and improve.
Measuring and Analyzing Energy Efficiency
An energy audit in-depth analysis can help identify areas where energy consumption can be reduced without a reduction in comfort.
Perhaps one of the first steps would be to get back to the basics, which means understanding how the building performs. This requires analyzing gas, water, and electricity consumption data to identify where energy is wasted. This approach will favor lower upfront costs.
Once all the data has been gathered, a detailed analysis can quickly help identify opportunities for reducing energy composition without compromising comfort.
One way would be to use back-to-basic checks, comparing consumption patterns with occupancy, HVAC control parameters, and weather. The findings can then be used as a benchmark for other buildings and a newly constructed building.
Completing the steps mentioned above will assist in the creation of a custom solution to manage a building’s carbon emissions. The strategies could include a number of efficiency improvement practices including exception alarms to alert when there is higher than expected energy consumption and active recommendations of optimized HVAC settings for each season.
A few other measures include regular reporting via the use of advanced software and establishing green protocols for the identification of wasted energy.
Improving By Switching to Renewable Energy
Decarbonizing involves getting targeted investment involved to boost performance and energy storage. Regardless of the solution, decarbonizing strategies tend to vary, but the goal should be to constantly improve. In theory, the goal will be net-zero and then negative carbon.
Sometimes the steps involved can include upgrading to high efficiency boilers. This is a primary area of interest for Modern Electron. By simultaneously deploying distributed methane pyrolysis technologies to fuel new boilers with clean hydrogen, Modern Electron improves efficiency, lowers operating costs, and reduces CO2 emissions all at the same time.
Reduce Energy Needs
The best step to decarbonize commercial heating is to ensure the building is well insulated. A fabric-first approach should be adopted, which requires identifying how well a building is insulated and exploring ways to reduce energy consumption for heating. It may involve consulting with the building’s architects, upgrading windows, and improving the airtightness of the structure’s envelope.
During this time, you should examine the use of different heat sources.
The Challenge Is that Every Building Is Unique
Every building presents a challenge, so assuming we can decarbonize every building using the same methods is unrealistic. Numerous challenges must be considered, not least how a building is heated.
Recently regulatory initiatives around heat pumps and phasing out of gas boilers forms part of the wider decarbonizing debate. These challenges will help us identify what sustainable solutions can be rolled out across different types of buildings as a series of step in the right direction.
If buildings are to become zero-carbon, multiple solutions will have to be developed and deployed. Some of these solutions will likely include district heating, hydrogen boilers, and heat pumps, all of which can also help lower conventional energy bills.
Presenting these solutions in terms of commercial viability can be challenging. For instance, the cost of natural gas can add-up, but , it is still the most cost-effective way of heating a building compared to electricity.
Many older and high density commercial buildings present challenges to energy efficiency improvements Yet there are approaches that building managers and owners can start rolling out right now. One of these is to identify how energy is being used and how energy is being wasted. This data can then be used to create and adopt viable solutions for decarbonizing buildings and saving money.