Friday, February 02, 2018

What is one planet living? - VIDEO

What is one planet living? Watch a video of my talk at the Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience!

Monday, December 18, 2017

UN and IEA tell building sector: 'go zero carbon'

Near-zero energy, zero-emissions buildings must become the global construction standard within the next decade for the world to have a chance of adequately fighting climate change, a joint statement by the International Energy Agency and UN Environment has warned.

“While the energy intensity of the buildings sector has improved it is not enough to offset rising energy demand,” International Energy Agency executive director Fatih Birol said at the launch of the Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction’s Global Status Report 2017 this week.

The floor area of buildings worldwide was 235 billion square metres in 2016. By 2060 a staggering further 230 billion square metres will be added – roughly the floor area of all of Japan’s buildings each year.

Global floor area additions by 2016 by key regions - graph
Global floor area additions by 2016 by key regions

The report said the urgent task was making these buildings energy efficient to stop them leaking cash and carbon for decades.

“The building sector is seeing some progress in cutting its emissions, but it is too little, too slowly,” UN Environment head Erik Solheim said.

“Realising the potential of the buildings and construction sector needs all hands on deck – in particular to address rapid growth in inefficient and carbon-intensive building investments.”

The increase in demand is caused by population growth but also greater demand per capita for floorspace and a greater demand for energy services.

Erik Solheim
Erik Solheim

Fatih Birol
The report said more than half of buildings that will be around in 40 years time will be constructed during the next 20 years, and two-thirds of those will be in countries that don’t have adequate building energy codes in place.

“Over the next 40 years, the world is expected to build 230 billion square metres in new construction – adding the equivalent of Paris to the planet every single week,” Dr Birol said. “This rapid growth is not without consequences.”

Pledges by individual countries to meet the ambitions of the Paris climate change agreement are still not sufficient to meet the 4.9 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide (GtCO2) annual emissions reduction that could be achieved if countries were to pursue strategic low-carbon and energy-efficient building technology deployment.

CO2 emissions from buildings and construction rose by almost one per cent a year between 2010 and 2016, with the report saying a dramatic increase in energy intensity was necessary to arrest this.

Energy-carbon intensities for the building sector by country in 2015
Energy-carbon intensities for the building sector by country in 2015
The bottom line is that near-zero energy, zero-emissions buildings need to become the construction norm globally within the next decade.

In addition, the rate of energy renovations for existing buildings also needs to improve from one to two per cent per year to over three per cent a year in the coming decade, particularly in developing countries where around 65 per cent of all of the building stock expected to be around in 2060 has already been built.

What is to be done

The report goes on to demonstrate many opportunities to install energy efficient and low carbon features and buildings, supported by many examples across the globe.

Four things are needed to achieve these goals, the report said:
  1. Ambitious and transparent commitment with policies and market incentives that encourage the construction sector to meet the sustainable development goals
  2. Much better building energy codes and certification, labelling and incentive programs, everywhere, with rigorous enforcement
  3. Wide-scale adoption and investment in high-performance, low-carbon, energy-efficient solutions
  4. A major shift in financing and investments, with a solid business case for investors, information and financing tools that minimise risk and uncertainty
The report also identifies nine areas for priority action:
  1. Urban planning policies for energy efficiency and renewables
  2. Improve the performance of existing buildings
  3. Achieve net-zero operating emissions
  4. Improve energy management of all buildings
  5. Decarbonise building energy
  6. Reduce embodied energy and emissions
  7. Reduce energy demand from appliances
  8. Upgrade adaptation for climate-change related risks
  9. Increase awareness with training and capacity building
Achieving the 2°C-limit for global warming scenario requires a major shift to put global buildings on a highly energy-efficient and net zero carbon pathway to 2060, as seen in the graphic below:

Final energy consumption by scenario and fuel type for the building sector between 2016 and 2060
Final energy consumption by scenario and fuel type for the building sector between 2016 and 2060

About half of the emissions reductions will come from decarbonising the power sector. But equally vital are improvements to the building envelope, such as energy renovations that improve energy intensity from inefficient to efficient technologies such as LEDs and heat pumps.

How to reduce emissions in the global buildings sector up to 2060
How to reduce emissions in the global buildings sector up to 2060
Energy efficient and low-carbon heating and cooling technology investments would reduce final energy demands in buildings by 25 per cent over current levels, the report said. Air conditioning performance is a crucial area to improve.

And although LED sales are now massive, in the residential lighting market less efficient technologies still prevail.

Guidance is available for a global strategy for the buildings sector for high-efficiency product deployment and fossil-fuel phase out, in the GABC Global Roadmap.

One of the buildings highlighted as an example for others to follow is the Edge building in Amsterdam, which uses digital technologies to maximise energy efficiency.

The zero energy building was designed to maximise natural light intake as well as solar electricity production. Smart technologies such as intelligent ventilation systems and connected LEDs allow people to interact with the building and for it to respond to real-time data sensors or occupants’ commands. This means that lighting levels, humidity and temperature can be adapted to the preferences of the occupants while at the same time improving building energy performance.

Many other examples are in the report from different climate zones.

The report – prepared by the IEA and published by the Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction for UN Environment – can be downloaded from

David Thorpe’s two new books are Passive Solar Architecture Pocket Reference and Solar Energy Pocket Reference. He’s also author of Energy Management in Building and Sustainable Home Refurbishment.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

How can cities reduce their ecological footprint?

Man harvesting food from an allotment in a city beneath a railway bridge
Is this the future of cities?

The last post in this series looked at the vital role of ecological footprinting in ensuring that our individual actions are truly sustainable – i.e. within the limits of what the Earth's resources can provide. This is called 'one planet' development.

This post will begin to look at how communities of varying sizes might transition to one planet living, in other words, how towns and cities can reduce their consumption levels.

The challenge

The world's citizens must reduce their collective footprint to one planet equivalent or face various catastrophes: out-of-control climate change, mass extinctions, famine and the death of the oceans to name but four on the agenda.

The global population is now 7.5 bn. and is predicted to peak at 11.2 bn by 2100 (UN). By this time up to 84% of us may be dwelling in cities. A frightening thought.

Yet all around the world, many different projects and initiatives to tackle their impact – both top-down and bottom-up – are evolving, especially in urban areas, as cities gain more confidence. They are supported by a plethora of pan-global organisations such as C40, ICLEI and the World Future Council.

These initiatives cover most fields from energy and water to transport, buildings and industry, with the latter being particularly tough to tackle.

Cities hoover up resources from the rest of the world. Unless those resources are both replenished in their place of origin and reclaimed for reuse in closed loop systems within cities, then cities cannot survive indefinitely.

So it is in cities where the battle for the future will be most harshly fought.

>Standards? What standards?!

To help us fight this battle effectively, we need assured processes. Enter the role of standards.

Standards are essentially manuals containing a set of guidelines and metrics to be followed and met in pursuit of whatever goal you're setting yourself.

There is a new standard to measure the sustainability of cities: Indicators for City Services and Quality of Life (ISO 37120). It is being piloted as part of an integrated suite of standards for sustainable development in communities by such as Mexico City.

There are many other indicators and standards for measuring sustainability: for example the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals contain a goal specifically about cities, and there is the New Urban Agenda, not to mention the Global Footprint Network's Ecological Footprint Standards 2009

Which standards should we use?

Standards can be relative or absolute. In other words, they can set a target of, say, a (relative) 50% reduction from a certain baseline, or an (absolute) target of, say, zero waste to landfill.

Absolute targets enable comparison and ranking between different cities or projects; we can compare the performance of communities by dividing their consumption by their population.

Absolute targets can also be linked to the (absolute) resources of the planet. In fact, standards must refer to planetary boundaries.

Standards should also be simple to communicate and implement – especially in relation to the gathering of the necessary data.

They might be designed to make it easy automate the gathering of data from existing data collection methods.

According to John Delaney of the British Standard Institute, "What option is chosen depends on what suits a city and/or what they are most comfortable with."

Mathis Wackernagel, president of the Global Footprint Network, says that, “Perhaps the driving question becomes – what do places need to know in order to operate safely in an ecologically ever more constrained world. Cities need to have the critical information.”

Back to Wales

Back in Wales, the home of One Planet Development, its Well-Being of Future Generations Act is its very own charter to make Wales sustainable within a generation or two. It uses various metrics and standards to measure this and some have yet to be decided at the local level.

The seven Well-Being Goals in the Well-Being of Future Generations Act
The seven Well-Being Goals in the Well-Being of Future Generations Act

It is essentially about spending. The Act means to ensure that the spending of public money is done in a sustainable way. That is to say, it does not jeopardise the ability of future generations both to live well and within planetary limits. The list of metrics includes:

  • Economic output – Gross Value Added
  • Social Justice - percentage of the population in relative low-income households
  • Biodiversity conservation – status of priority species and habitats
  • Ecological footprint – national EF against the UK and global average
  • Wellbeing - a standard set of 36 health questions which ask respondents about their own perception of their physical and mental health.
  • UN’s Sustainable Development Goals
  • Carbon footprinting.

To try and ensure this is done, procurement strategies still need to be thrashed out.

And there is an independent Commissioner for Future Generations, who acts as a government watchdog.

(In England, the Tory Government abolished this role, which was held by Jonathan Porritt, in 2011).

The path towards One Planet Towns and Cities

So here is my deceptively simple six-step process for a town or city that decides it wants to reduce its ecological footprint to a fair and sustainable level:
  1. Decide which standards to use
  2. Obtain buy-in from citizens and all branches of government and obtain feedback at all level
  3. Set the baseline – identify the current situation for each of the impacts (energy, water, food, minerals, biodiversity, carbon, pollution, health, income inequality, etc.)
  4. Decide the objectives to be set for each aspect of the footprint over realistic timescales. These should ratchet down consumption in stages over one or two generations.
  5. Set in place ways to measure them and to independently enforce them.
  6. Celebrate all your achievements!

This makes it sound easy. But the task ahead is momentous. Above all it requires skills, knowledge and leadership.

You know, anyone can become a leader. You just have to decide to do something.

If you doubt this, look for a moment at the enormous difference a small group of people in Todmorden have made. They started the 'Incredible edible' guerilla food-planting movement now copied all over the world.

One Planet Towns vs. Transition Towns

I believe that 'one planet' towns should be what 'transition towns' transition towards.

Transition towns do not generally measure the efficacy of their actions. While they may very well be doing lots of good work, it may be that the efforts of some are only scratching the surface of what needs to be done, and at worst, wasting their time.

They would have to account for the whole picture of consumption of their community in order to be sure, and then check what difference their actions are making over time. This is hard for voluntary organisations to do, and indicates why it is crucial to work with the authorities.

But the authorities often do not want to know. In such cases they need to be trained to see the benefits that would accrue to their communities. Success depends on both top-down and bottom-up co-operation.

The need for training

In 2018 I am setting up a new body called The One Planet Institute that will contribute to this work. Contact me for more information or to get involved.

Measurement and verification may be boring. It may be hard work. It might even seem a waste of time to some people.  But I know from my experience in energy management and in the post-occupancy evaluation of buildings that were intended by architects to be low-carbon, that it is the only way to be absolutely sure we are NOT wasting our time.

In short, that we are targeting our efforts in the most worthwhile directions.

Next article

The next article in this series will look at the hardest component of the ecological footprint to reduce – food production and consumption.

One Planet Living is about showing the way:
  • To buy The One Planet Life, click here.
  • To enquire about hosting a workshop or training in One Planet Living, or anything else, email David.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Europe inches closer to strong energy efficiency target

Members of the European Parliament’s industry and energy committee have voted by a narrow margin for a legally binding 40 per cent energy efficiency goal and a 35 per cent renewable energy target for 2030.

{Note: a version of this article appeared one week ago on The Fifth Estate]

Markus Pieper

The energy efficiency vote was won by only one vote (33 in favour and 32 against). German conservative Markus Pieper (above) sided with the ECR Group, a 74-strong Eurosceptic alliance of European conservatives and reformists, and the far-right Europe of Nations and Freedom group, which includes France’s National Front and the coal-favouring Visegrad Group.

Pieper’s compatriot, Socialists and Democrats Group member Martina Werner, siding with the committee’s rapporteur Adam Gierek, hailed the vote as “a great political victory after a fierce battle between the political groups”.

“We had to face serious attempts to water down the Energy Efficiency Directive. Even the Commission acknowledged that their amendments, for example on the annual savings rate, would amount to 0 per cent, for the period 2021-2030. This is not acceptable.”

With the European Council having already agreed on its approach on the Energy Efficiency Directive, the three European institutions must now agree on one joint position under the Bulgarian presidency next January, after the adopted report has been passed by a full plenary session.

Renewable energy sails through

By contrast, the Renewable Energy Directive vote was backed by 43 in favour and only 14 against. However, this motion already contained compromises. Although Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) wanted to increase the Commission’s 27 per cent target to 35 per cent, many, including the Greens, believe that 35 per cent is “the strict minimum” needed to let the EU meet its commitments under the Paris Agreement.

WWF Europe renewable energy expert Alex Mason slammed the proposal as “toothless” and claimed that the inclusion of a 10 per cent “flexibility margin” sent a signal to investors that “the EU is scaling back on renewable energy”.

Adair Turner, chair of the Energy Transitions Commission (ETC), a coalition of leading organisations from the worlds of business, energy and finance, said the ETC had come to the conclusion that a 100 per cent renewable energy system was now clearly within reach – probably sooner than we think.

“We are pretty confident that in 10 or 15 years you would be able to do a near total renewable system – 85 or 90 per cent – based on intermittent renewables. We said 2035 but this is probably ludicrously conservative.”

Energy efficiency remains controversial

But opponents of the target vowed to fight on to prevent it from becoming law. Opposition to the target is based on the belief that energy efficiency is not cost-effective.

Van Bossuyt, chair of the European Parliament’s internal market committee and member of the ECR Group, after the vote said: “We all want to see an ambitious strategy for improving efficiency, but there is no point introducing targets and policies if countries and companies are unable to implement them.

“A policy that is affordable and works in one country may be completely inappropriate and expensive in another. Governments and local authorities need to step up efforts to renovate their building stocks but this is expensive and places huge pressure on budgets that are already stretched.”

But this belief is not shared by industry. Philippe Dumas, secretary general of geothermal heating association EGEC, said: “The vote … puts the heating and cooling sector on track to be freed from fossil fuels. Decarbonising the heating and cooling sector can only be done by exploiting synergies between energy efficiency and renewable policies in terms of actions, technologies and ambitious policies.”

French energy group Engie’s CEO, Isabelle Kocher, said she supported the 40 per cent target: “We are very supportive of setting energy efficiency targets that are both very high and which are binding.”

So did members of the European Alliance to Save Energy, who include Veolia, Siemens, Philips Lighting and Danfoss, who had said that any target below 40 per cent energy savings “would set policy goals below the business-as-usual energy efficiency improvement trajectory and will have no impact on the ground”.

And the CEO of the Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change, Stephanie Pfeifer, said the 40 per cent target would “send a clear and positive signal to investors swiftly enough to ensure a smooth transition to a low carbon economy”.

The Coalition for Energy Savings welcomed the energy efficiency vote. Its secretary general Stefan Scheuer said: “Energy efficiency policies have been the bedrock of the EU’s common energy policy, and a major tool to address environmental, competitiveness, social and geopolitical challenges.

“MEPs across the political spectrum who acknowledge these benefits should overcome their divisions and agree on a solid common energy efficiency policy post 2020 in view of the negotiations with the Council.”

He said the EU could achieve this energy efficiency target cost-effectively, according to research findings presented in the impact assessment for the Energy Efficiency Directive revision proposal.

The need for investment

Seventy-five per cent of the EU’s building stock is inefficient and buildings account for 40 per cent of the EU’s primary energy demand. Even if the target becomes law, a major obstacle to increasing the rate of renovation is access to finance, an issue for both businesses and households.

The Energy Efficiency Financial Institutions Group (established by the European Commission Directorate-General for Energy and United Nations Environment Program Finance Initiative) says that to reach the EU 2030 energy and climate targets about €379 billion (AU$591.7b) is needed each year between 2021 and 2030.

Where could such a massive amount come from? Part of the answer might be from energy companies themselves, who stand to save hundreds of billions of dollars from the easing of network constraints and of the need for new infrastructure that is being caused by the ongoing digitalisation of the energy sector.

Those savings are highlighted in a recent report from the International Energy Agency, which puts the savings to be achieved from a more connected, intelligent, efficient and reliable energy system at around US$80 billion (AU$105b) – approximately five per cent of total annual generation costs worldwide.

Furthermore, it says that as much as US$270 billion (AU$355b) in necessary infrastructure costs could be saved by realising up to 185GW of worldwide flexibility via smart demand response.

These savings could usefully be translated into investments in energy efficiency programs, which would achieve a return on investment over similar long time frames.

Another, admittedly much smaller, type of solution is to be found in places like Bucharest, where EU investment programs have contributed to the renovation of around 1200 flats. The Dutch approach of “Energiesprong” undertakes housing retrofits and installing photovoltaic panels and boilers in order to create Net Zero Energy houses, focusing on the social housing sector. In the Netherlands there have so far been about 1800 refurbishments with a further 15,000 in the pipeline.

If the European Union does finally succeed in setting the 40 per cent energy efficiency goal in law next year, that will only be the beginning. It will be up to the market to step up to the challenge of meeting the requirements.

David Thorpe is author of Passive Solar Architecture Pocket Reference and Solar Energy Pocket Reference.

Friday, November 24, 2017

What is One Planet Development?

Something special is happening in Wales. The country is using legislation to shift itself into a very different direction from England. It wants to be more sustainable. It wants to reduce its ‘ecological footprint’ to a level that’s fair compared to the rest of the planet’s population and resources.

Spearheading this approach is the notion of One Planet Development.

What is One Planet Development?

Through its Technical Advice Note 6 (TAN 6) and Planning Policy Wales (PPW) the Welsh Government sets out land use planning policies to support sustainable communities. Planning Policy Wales (2016) says:

4.5.11 Closely aligned to the commitments to tackling climate change is the Welsh Government’s approach to reducing the ecological footprint of Wales. Our Sustainable Development Scheme sets out an ambition for Wales to use its fair share of the Earth’s resources, where, within a generation, our ecological footprint is reduced to the global average availability of resources – 1.88 global hectares per person. The current footprint shows that, if everyone on the Earth lived as we do, we would use 2.7 planets worth of resources. Reducing Wales’ ecological footprint will require a large reduction in the total resources used to sustain our lifestyles. The policy and guidance set out here in PPW will make an important contribution to reducing our footprint, whilst delivering sustainable development and tackling climate change.

Section 4 of TAN 6 defines One Planet Developments (OPD) as being exemplars of sustainable development:

4.15.2 One Planet Developments may take a number of forms. They can either be single homes, co-operative communities or larger settlements. They may be located within or adjacent to existing settlements, or be situated in the open countryside.

In other words, anywhere.

However planning guidance exists currently only for OPD in the open countryside. The criteria include:

  1. An initial ecological footprint of 2.4 global hectares per person or less and clear potential to move towards 1.88 global hectare; the Welsh Government provides an Excel-based calculator on its website to help you work out your own footprint
  2. Buildings being zero carbon over their lifetime;
  3. Carbon analysis and improvement plan for the plot;
  4. Biodiversity and landscape improvement;
  5. A community impact improvement;
  6. Transport assessment and travel plan to minimise carbon impact of travel;
  7. Sustainable water supply;
  8. Zero waste (including biological waste – sewage treatment)
  9. 100% renewable energy.
  10. Over a reasonable length of time (no more than 5 years), to provide for the minimum needs of the inhabitants in terms of income, food, energy and waste assimilation from land-based employment.
No criteria of this nature have yet been determined for urban or peri-urban developments but something comparable is anticipated at a collective community level. I believe it is therefore urgently necessary for planning guidance to be set for making both new and existing settlements satisfy, collectively, the criteria to be measurably ‘one planet’ within a generation.

David Thorpe's book about the One Planet Development policy in action

Meanwhile, I run courses on how to do this, based on my book, The One Planet Life, which is a kind of manual and ‘big book of everything’ for sustainable living.

The One Planet Council, of which I am a co-founder and patron, is also a great source of help, both on its website and Facebook page for anyone wanting to do this or find out more.

How to do it

Anyone wanting to pursue this life in Wales, in the open countryside, where one is not normally permitted to build a home, must satisfy the above criteria. In England, sometimes a Local Development Plan can have similar criteria, or an authority can use a Section 106 agreement to permit it, as with Hockerton Housing Project.

To prove their claim in Wales, applicants must submit a planning application containing a ‘management plan’ that sets out their plans to meet these criteria. This includes detailing the land-based businesses they will run to support themselves.

When you have secured planning permission you have five years to meet the criteria. You can also use the ‘one planet’ label on your products that has been developed for marketing purposes by the One Planet Council.

Measurable and provable

The great advantage of this approach, and its ‘unique selling point’, is that it is measurable and provable. There is no doubt that your life will be a little more sustainable. Many times you hear claims about the sustainability of lifestyles or products and developments, but there is no way of knowing how true they are.

a screenshot of the Excel-based ecological footprinting calculator.

Above: a screenshot of the Excel-based calculator. It uses your expenditure as a way of working out your ecological footprint (click to enlarge).

What is an ecological footprint?

The global population is now 7.5 bn. and is predicted to peak at 11.2 bn by 2100 (UN). But the ability of our lovely planet Earth to support life depends on us staying within a number of ‘planetary boundaries’. Humanity passed this ‘biocapacity’ limit way back in the early 1970s. Our collective footprint has been rising ever since:

Earth's biocapacity - graph

As defined by the environmental charity WWF, there are nine ‘planetary boundaries’. Every couple of years WWF produces a brilliant survey called a ‘Living Planet Report’. The last one, in 2016, said that of these nine limits to growth, four have passed safe levels: climate change, biosphere integrity, biogeochemical flows and land-system change.

Earth's planetary boundaries - graph

WWF says that humanity now needs the regenerative capacity of 1.6 Earths to provide goods and services we collectively use. But the per capita ecological footprint of high-income nations dwarfs low- and middle-income countries. What will happen if 11.2bn people want North America’s standard of living?

Ecological footprint is measured in ‘global hectares’. It divides the ‘biocapacity’ of land (supply) by human consumption levels (demand). The biocapacity is a measure of the pollution land can absorb and the services and resources it can provide. The demand is the population level times the consumption level. The result is an average of hectares per person, if it were distributed equally between everyone alive. A hectare is 2.47 acres or 10,000 square metres or 0.01 square kilometers.

According to the last report, the fair level is 1.7 global hectares per person.

Not very much. It is the level of the world’s lowest consuming countries, in Africa and the Indian sub-continent.

So we in the UK must move from an average level of three times this (as if, if everyone were living this way, we had three planet Earths – if only!) to one.

Back to Wales

To go back to Wales, the law there contains a goal to make this shift in one generation.

One Planet Living is about showing the way. It is the start of an immense and difficult journey.

  • To enquire about hosting a workshop or course in One Planet Living, email David.
  • The next post in this series will be about moving from individual to collective one planet living, in other words show towns and cities can shift their consumption levels.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Everything you want to know about using Solar Energy is here!

Knowledge – as well as solar energy – is power! I'm very proud to announce the publication of not one but two new titles that I've been working on for a long time.

These distil much of my learning over this period about two essential topics that will help us fight climate change:
  1. Passive Solar Architecture Pocket Reference
  2. Solar Energy Pocket Reference

Get 20% off! E.g. paperback or e-book would be £20.79! Just enter code FLR40 on checkout. Order here:

Passive Solar Architecture covers: the principles of passive solar building and passive house, a ten-step design and build strategy, calculating solar irradiance, factors affecting the choice of building materials, passive heating and cooling principles and techniques in different climates, the Passivhaus Standard and natural and augmented lighting and notes on technology and building occupation.

The book also includes conversion factors, standards, resources and is peppered throughout with helpful illustrations, equations, explanations, and links to further online resources.

Passive Solar Architecture is ideal for practitioners, architects, designers, consultants, planners, home builders, students and academics, and those working in development contexts.

This book is intended to act as an aide memoir, a reference supplement, a resource and an overview of the field. Rich in background detail, the book also includes at-a-glance tables and diagrams, equations and key definitions.

Solar Energy
 covers: solar radiation and its detailed measurement, the emissivity and absorption properties of materials, solar thermal energy collection and storage, photovoltaics (both at all scales), solar cooling, and the use of solar energy for desalination and drying.

The book also includes conversion factors, standards and constants and is peppered throughout with helpful illustrations, equations and explanations, as well as a chapter making the business case for solar power.

Solar Energy is for anyone with an interest in solar energy, including energy professionals and consultants, engineers, architects, academic researchers and students.

They will find a host of answers in this book – a practical assimilation of fundamentals, data, technologies and guidelines for application.

They're available in hardback, paperback and as ebooks.

Get 20% off! E.g. paperback or e-book would be £20.79! Just enter code FLR40 on checkout. Order here:

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

World Green Building Week and the campaign for net zero buildings

Aktiv-Stadthaus, a net zero residential building in Frankfurt
Aktiv-Stadthaus, a net zero residential building in Frankfurt, Germany of 11,700 m2, built in 2015.

It was World Green Building Week last week, with Green Building Councils from across the world campaigning for all buildings to be “net zero” by 2050.

The week promoted the aspirations of the World Green Buildings Council's (WGBC) report earlier this year, From Thousands to Billions – Coordinated Action towards 100% Net Zero Carbon Buildings By 2050, which calls for a dramatic and ambitious transformation towards a completely zero carbon built environment.

The aim is for all new buildings to be operating at net zero carbon from 2030. The WGBC advocates that net zero carbon buildings must become standard business practice as soon as possible, to avoid the need for future major retrofits and prevent the lock-in of carbon emitting systems for decades to come.

It wants to see not just an acceleration of current renovation rates, but these renovations to be completed to a net zero carbon standard so that all buildings are net zero carbon in operation by 2050.

The route to net zero

Ten national GBCs are already working with stakeholders in their markets to create or adopt voluntary net zero carbon building rating systems and support training. These include Australia, Brazil, Canada, Germany, India, Netherlands, South Africa, and Sweden, and UK.

Each national council is developing a program suitable for their markets, and each will respect the following principles:

  1. to use carbon as the key metric
  2. to promote deep energy efficiency
  3. to establish a hierarchical preference for onsite renewable energy, off-site renewable energy, and then offsets
  4. to transparently disclose how each building achieves a carbon balance and promote continuous improvement of the building sector
Achieving the targets would help to ensure that the worst impacts of climate change are avoided, and bring about a number of other political and economic benefits, says the WGBC. These include future-proofing investments, resilience against energy prices, education, technology development and innovation, and new jobs.

The report goes on to describe several net zero buildings in existence today, and suggests that businesses can help by committing to invest in, build or occupy only properties that will achieve net zero carbon.

NGOs have a part to play here. They can help to develop certification programs for net zero carbon buildings for businesses to adopt and support governments to create roadmaps, incentives and tracking systems.

Governments can help by committing, perhaps as part of their work to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement on climate change, to develop national and/or sub-national regulations for new and existing buildings to achieve net zero carbon standards, as well as themselves occupying only certified net zero carbon buildings before 2030.

One thing governments or NGOs could also do is to keep track of the rates of “deep energy renovation” of buildings in their country.

To achieve the 100 per cent net zero carbon by 2050 goal, this global average rate of renovation must reach three per cent a year if we start in 2017, or higher if we start later.

The current market

But that is currently a distant dream. The best estimates from building inventory studies are that there are approximately just 500 net zero energy commercial buildings and 2000 net zero energy housing units worldwide.

The Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction reports that current average renovation rates around the world are just one per cent or less of the existing building stock each year.

The European Union has the highest number of net zero buildings, due to government-sponsored retrofit programs and a history of progressive policies and market interest.

North America is estimated to have the second-largest concentration of net zero buildings. These include many smaller commercial buildings and single-family homes, especially in the western and northeast states.

Residential buildings comprise the highest number and type of net zero projects built to date, but many are single-family homes built as demonstration projects. Office blocks come second by type.

Some public-sector projects built to net zero standards in India, South Africa and the US have floor areas of over 30,000 square metres, but most buildings are under 900 square metres.


There’s an urgent need to identify and overcome the barriers preventing more net zero carbon buildings from being built.

There’s still widespread ignorance that such buildings are possible and, even if a client may have heard of them, a perception that they are either technically difficult, risky or expensive.

This is coupled with uncertainty about which technologies should be deployed and whether energy efficiency or renewable energy should be prioritised.

As a result, client demand is still low and technical know-how rare. Most of the research and evidence has focused on net zero energy buildings – which is much harder and likely more expensive to achieve than net zero carbon buildings.

For example, a 2013 report by International Living Future Institute, New Buildings Institute and Skanska stated that the average cost premium for three net zero energy buildings in Columbia, US was between 5-12 higher.

In practice, investor and owner return on investment in a net zero building can vary greatly, depending on they building type and where it is built, taking into account energy costs, incentive programs and climate policies, such as a tax on carbon.

The need for certification schemes

The WGBC believes that only by introducing voluntary net zero certification can the necessary market transformation occur.

For example, in Australia green building certification schemes promote holistic approaches to sustainable development beyond energy performance (such as water, waste, ecology, materials), and increase global awareness.

The green building market has grown over the past 15 years, including through the introduction of rating tools. Green Star has provided a common language for the property and construction industry to use when describing best practice.

Now, 30 per cent of Australia’s CBD office space has Green Star certification, up from 23 per cent at the end of 2014 and, on average, certified buildings produce 62 per cent less greenhouse gas emissions than average Australian buildings.

The benefits to investors are that as the real estate investment market responds to the call to combat climate change, net zero carbon assets will have the lowest operating costs and be the most de-risked and, therefore, highest-quality assets.

David Thorpe is the author of Energy Management in Building and Sustainable Home Refurbishment.