NET ZERO CARBON: BUILDINGS

This week is the third part of a series that I am doing looking into Net Zero carbon and how this can be achieved by 2050.

There was a report that came out in October 2020 called “Fit for Net-Zero: 55 Tech Quests to Accelerate Europe’s Recovery and Pave the Way to Climate Neutrality.” I thought the report was really good, so over the last couple of weeks I have been picking out my personal highlights from the different sections that made up the report.

Net Zero Carbon – Solutions for Buildings

I was amazed to learn that more than 40% of all residential buildings in Europe were constructed before 1960, when energy efficiency and other regulations were very limited. Equally important is the fact that 75% of today’s building stock will still exist in 2050. This makes renovation to the existing building stock a priority if Europe is to reach net zero emissions by 2050.

One solution that the report recommends is a deep renovation of residential buildings. The current rate of building renovations in Europe is 0.2%, which is too low to meet the demands of reaching net zero by 2050.

The report recommends to massively replicate successful renovation programs and regional initiatives at scale, using standard methodologies and industrialized components to reduce investment per m2.

This is a powerful solution, with the potential to avoid 139.3 MtCO₂e by 2050 and create 2,109,000 jobs over the same time period.

The next solution highlighted in the report was developing next generation equipment to increase the performance of deep renovations.

The up-front cost of new technologies in insulation and building renovations are too high and are proving to be prohibitive. The report suggests boosting the development of early technologies improving insulation and renovation performance with new standardised materials and high-performing electric equipment at lower costs.

Technologies that they recommend for additional support include the following:

  • Bio-aerogel panels integrated with PCM
  • PV vacuum glazing windows
  • Roof and window heat recovery devices
  • Solar-assisted heat pumps
  • Ground source heat pumps
  • Evaporative coolers
  • Integrated solar thermal/PV
  • Systems and lighting devices

All of these systems can benefit from extensive prefabrication off site and so can arrive at residential settings ready for installation.

This was another powerful suggestion, that has the potential to avoid 61.9 MtCO₂e by 2050 and create 211,000 jobs over the same time period.                                                                                                                                           The next solution that stood out was automating, digitizing and streamlining construction processes and methods for renovations and new builds. This is yo address the major problem of the slow uptake of modern, efficient digital construction processes.

The report’s solution is to demonstrate the benefits of various technologies using five clusters and coordination between the clusters to spread skills in a collaborative way.

Digital solutions that the report identifies as being able to provide carbon savings include the following:

  • Scan to BIM using Lidar or drones, etc.
  • BIM 6D features to integrate lifecycle information.
  • Integration of BIM data with building sensors to improve energy and indoor environmental performance.
  • EnerBIM/BIMsolar solutions which integrate solar panels sizing with ROI information.
  • Open BIM approaches to ease software interoperability, as promoted by BuildingSMART at the global level.
  • Digital twin technology for at least five projects, inspired by SPHERE project which gathers 20 partners from 10 EU countries (target -25% GHG emissions, -25% construction time).
  • Digital building pass gathering all key information on the building lifecycle (like CN BIM).

This cluster of solutions has the potential to avoid 121.3 MtCO₂e and create 211,000 jobs by 2050.

The final solution that stood out was a programme of massive electrification of heat with low cost heat pumps. This is to address the problem that heat pumps have a higher upfront investment requirement than gas boilers. Their solution is to industrialize heat pump manufacturing to decrease investment requirements.

Their concept is to build 36 heat pump megafactories by 2030, each with ~150,000 units per year capacity. This scheme will also require support through funding schemes, subsidies, or tax reductions.

This is a powerful solution with the potential to avoid 481.4 MtCO₂e and create 604,000 jobs by 2050.

What you need to know

This article was the third part in a series looking into the top breakthrough technologies from the recently released Fit For Net Zero report. This week was the turn of looking into the solutions for buildings.

A lot of the solutions for buildings were already covered in the industry section, but there were a lot of good solutions in this part of the report.

With buildings accounting for around 40% of EU energy use of which about half is required for heating and cooling, action taken in this arena will decide whether the EU is able to mount an adequate response to climate change.

The positive news is that there are lots of solutions. Some of which require government support to encourage their adoption, others are market ready and should be adopted by companies working in the built environment sector out of self-interest.

Many low carbon solutions also have the potential to create enormous numbers of well-paid jobs, which could be an extra contributing factor in government support for decarbonisation of this sector.  

Thank you for reading,

By Barnaby Nash

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below, or reach out to me on social media. What do you think needs to be done to make net zero 2050 a reality?

 Let’s stay connected

I can be reached on LinkedIn and on Twitter @FollowBarnaby

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