It has been said that our global effort to reduce CO2 emissions, create jobs and unlock sustainable growth starts at home.
As engineers with decades of property industry expertise, Neuron knows the race to net zero really starts in the design phase, long before the development is completed and the building is occupied.
In this Knowledge Series, we discuss the major role building services engineering plays in energy usage and ongoing carbon production, and the simple ways to make your building one of the solutions, instead of part of the problem.
What is the ‘Race to Net Zero?’
Since 2019, the global Race to Zero campaign has rallied for leadership and support towards building a healthy, resilient, zero carbon recovery.
Net zero means not adding to the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and it is achieved by a combination of two key factors:
- Cutting emissions as much as possible; mainly by reducing gases like carbon dioxide (CO2), which are released in the use of fossil fuels.
- Implementing offsetting measures, such as planting trees and carbon-capture technology.
Australia is currently projected to achieve a 30% reduction on 2005 emissions by 2030, a four-point lead on its initial commitment of 26% and a strong sign that renewables are here to stay.
In order to reach net zero by 2050, the amount of carbon dioxide Australia is removing from the atmosphere will have to be on par with, or more than, its emission levels. To succeed, we need businesses, cities, developers and investors alike to unite for the cause.
How can Australia reach ‘net zero’?
During the recent COP26 summit, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that over $20 billion would be invested in ‘low-emissions technology development’ over the next decade, including an allocated $1.6 billion in the Australian Government’s 2021–22 Budget.
This means that, along with an increase in greener energy production (wind, solar and pumped hydro), and a conscious moving away from coal or gas fired power plants, many of the technologies we will come to rely on for reducing emissions have not been invented yet.
What do buildings have to do with it?
Buildings play a huge part in Australia’s race to net-zero, accounting for 40% of all energy usage. Of that total percentage, building operations amount to 28% and construction 11% of all energy usage annually.
Buildings services engineering plays a major role in energy usage and ongoing carbon production across three key areas:
- Electricity. Air conditioning and lifts are the highest power users, and typically rely on electricity.
- Water. Toilets, irrigation systems (green roof spaces), drinking & cleaning are the major water users in buildings.
- Gas. Cooktops, heating domestic hot water, BBQs in common areas.
Global building floor area is expected to double by 2060. Therefore, achieving zero emissions from new buildings by 2050 will require such measures as no on-site fossil fuel usage and 100% on- and/or off-site renewable energy.
What can we do today to ready our buildings for net zero?
There is already great work being done in this space by sustainability consultants, architects and landscape architects designing comfortable, thermally efficient spaces that require less energy to heat, cool, light, and power buildings.
But what can we do from a building services perspective to tackle the largest energy contributors over the 20-40-year life of the building?
Here are our top suggestions:
- All-electric buildings are the only assured way to future proof buildings for net-zero.
- Offsetting electrical usage through efficient home appliances.
- Installing solar panels to minimise the ongoing electrical usage (and your power bill), while also helping the electrical network manage increased power loads as buildings become all-electric.
- Signing up to green energy tariffs.
- Integrating rainwater reuse systems to minimise ongoing water usage. Clever stormwater system design and dual water systems can maximise rainwater collection and usage by diverting rainwater to flush toilets, irrigate gardens etc.
- Smart technology can inform occupants on behavioural changes to help manage peak power demand and buildings overall energy usage, e.g., when the outside conditions are favourable, use natural ventilation and ceiling fans in lieu of traditional AC.
- Offering bill discounts where electric cars are charged during off-peak periods.
- Incentivise occupants to make sustainable behavioural changes. Making it community-based has additional social benefits for residents.
How do we pay for all of these new and often expensive systems?
Developers don't usually wake up in the morning and say: "today I want to design and build a really inefficient building." However, it happens all the time.
Developers are first and foremost businesses. They typically run several ‘feasibility studies’ to try and find sites that ‘stack up’ financially to purchase. With record-high land values, this is often really hard, and projects sometimes only just make it over the line. This is one of the reasons developers sometimes have their hands tied. They go in wanting to build the best building possible, but do not have the capital to do so.
Often, what might look like a cost-saving decision at the outset, may be an extremely energy inefficient solution that will cost more in the long run.
There is no silver bullet. However, there is one immediate solution that can help. Design optimisation.
That is, the process of doing more with less. If we can save money or add in additional value to one part of the building, often we can free up capital to spend in another area of the development.
Manually this process is incredibly difficult, however with innovative PropTech like Neuron, testing 100's of different engineering arrangements to find the best solution for a project is now completely achievable in a short timeframe, and at a low cost.
- Enabling extensive sustainability measures to be paid for by offsetting costs elsewhere that aren’t giving you ‘bang for your buck’ is one of the easiest ways to optimise your building design. This is not just a cost-saving exercise but a value maximisation one. As an example, if one system is $400K more expensive, but results in 70sqm savings in NSA priced at $15,000/sqm, we could add back in $1M in apartment sales value, leaving you $600K better off to potentially pay for several sustainability measures.
- Other initiatives include offsetting strategies like utilising imbedded network providers, who bulk buy all the gas, electricity, solar etc and on-sell to the apartments at a lower rate. Ensure to only utilise reputable, Tier 1 imbedded network providers in this instance.
- One last example is the availing of Government incentives such as Tradable Small Scale Technology Certificates (STCs). For example, if a building put in a 20KW solar array, over ten years they could be entitled to 276 STCs valued at $40 per certificate ($11K).
When you combine all these initiatives, often you can integrate significant sustainability measures, without costing your project a lot of money.
Making these decisions as early as possible in the design process will put you in the best position with your design teams to meet these challenges – while remaining well within budget and on program.
We often wonder what our cities will look like in 2050.
Given most buildings stand for 30-70 years, the buildings we construct today will form part of that future. In order to create the future we want to see, now is the time to be making changes.
As the race to net zero picks up speed, design optimisation will play a pivotal role.
Design optimisation will enable us to achieve more sustainable buildings, without resulting in higher costs, lost value or further pushing up housing prices.
Neuron is here and ready to help.
To increase the energy efficiency of your building while simultaneously increasing the value of your development, get in touch with Neuron at firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange a workshop.