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Townmore: The Importance of building smart, zero carbon buildings


According to the World Economic Forum, buildings represent 39 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, including 28 percent in operational emissions and 11 percent in building materials and construction. Reducing carbon emissions in buildings will be critical to achieving  the Paris climate goals and Irish state targets of net zero emissions by 2050. 

The overlap between smart buildings, healthy buildings and zero carbon buildings is almost complete and the distinctions are few. The goal is for energy efficient, zero carbon buildings that are ‘smart’ and ‘healthy’ by virtue of the technologies used to monitor the building’s performance, reduce emissions, while increasing the health, equity and economic prosperity for owners, occupants and for the local communities. There is a lot in that; a greater number of demands from a greater number of stakeholders. Undoubtedly, there is a long road ahead. The development and construction industry has made a start, where to next?

A recent WEF article reported that global building floorspace is projected to double by 2060 and only 3 percent of investment in new construction is green and efficient. This is a problem as it effectively locks in high emissions for the next few decades of occupation for these new buildings. The scale of building renovation and retrofit is not enough to compensate for this; the current rate is 1 percent, which is less than a third of the rate needed to meet the Paris climate goals. You can read that article in full here: 


The four good ‘DEEDs’

The four good ‘DEEDs’ are the main forces driving the delivery of zero carbon buildings, these are: decarbonisation, electrification, efficiency and digitalisation. This involves improving the lifetime performance of a building through smart design, integrated delivery, greater use of recycled construction materials, elimination of fossil fuels, the use of renewable energy, and the use of IoT, or internet of things, and AI-enabled proptech solutions to monitor and provide real-time, actionable insights to building owners and occupants. Frankly, options are still quite limited and, collectively, we have a lot more work to do on the circular economy for construction and on embracing emerging technologies for operational efficiencies. 

Having said that, the sustainability conversation has been getting louder and more inclusive over recent years, particularly here in Ireland. While delivery of the four good ‘DEEDs’ presents massive challenges for the industry right now, most recognise that it presents some massive opportunities too. 

According to the above-linked WEF article: 

“Energy efficiency must remain a top priority for zero carbon buildings, even with a decarbonized energy supply. Every dollar invested in energy efficiency saves about two dollars in energy supply, whether that investment is made in local, on-site generation or at a grid level. It also reduces the total cost of future grid infrastructure to meet increased demand.”


Building lifecycle management

Digitalisation – the ‘smart element’ – is a critical component for ensuring the lifetime operational efficiency of buildings. It is also an important facilitator of the flexibility that will be demanded of all future buildings. The digital infrastructure of a building is no longer an add-on, master data systems must be provided for from the early design stage in order to access the full advantages of a smart building, from comfort-response HVAC performance, right through to touchless access throughout, indoor air quality, and safe acoustic levels. Even basic automated building controls can save up to 15 percent of energy in commercial buildings, the savings increase in line with the level of automation.

Progressing together, the industry must be mindful of the four good ‘DEEDs’ from early design stage in order to give Ireland a reasonable chance at meeting the 2050 targets.