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.