How Net Zero Buildings can be Achieved Today

Jun 27, 2022DMA Engineering, Steven Forrester - Principal

Commercial and residential buildings make up 40% of the United States energy consumption. Industrial usage and transportation make up the remaining 60%. If America is going to be serious about being a carbon neutral country, transportation should no longer use fossil fuels, and industry must offset their carbon production or change to new technologies. The transportation sector will require an increase in battery technology, a sufficient the number of charging stations, and a reduction in costs. Industry will need new technologies that are not yet developed for widespread use.

As for buildings, almost all new construction can be made net zero, or net positive with technology that already exists and is ready for mass rollout. Of course, the transition will not be cheap. The McKinsey & Company, report “Net Zero Transition, what it could cost, what it could bring,” states there will be a total spend of $9.2 trillion globally with 185 million jobs reduced and 200 million more created, equaling a net gain of 15 million jobs. In the building sector, a higher quality product will need to be built which will slow the building process slightly and will require more oversight on the building envelope.

Today modern conveniences and technology have improved our lives in countless ways. I believe we can achieve mass net zero energy buildings without having to sacrifice our modern life. I do believe that we will need cooperation on a mass scale and re-training of our current construction professionals in order for net zero to work.

With our current building stock, net zero may not be possible for every building. We can convert almost all buildings over to electric heating. Retrofitting roofs with better insulation, upgrading windows and air sealing are all actions that make a building more energy efficient, increase occupant comfort, and reduce OPeX.

All of these upgrades will cost money, and there are tools available to deploy the capital needed. Massive improvement projects typically pencil out to be cost neutral to the owner and show a long-term upside as the asset is more desirable and has higher market value.

Net zero energy for new buildings can be readily achieved today, and we as a society should not accept antiquated building techniques that do not meet net zero standards. Our existing buildings need to be retrofitted and upgraded to electric heating, and the building envelopes upgraded to the highest level possible.