In mid-May the International Energy Agency (IEA) released an important report called Net-Zero by 2050: A Roadmap for the Global Energy Sector. The report finds that a radical shift toward renewable energy is required to prevent the world from warming beyond 1.5 degrees and that investments in oil and gas need to immediately come to an end. It specifies that governments need to significantly strengthen and successfully implement their energy and climate policies. The number of countries pledging to achieve net-zero emissions includes approximately 70 per cent of global emissions.
However, most pledges are not yet supported by robust, near‐term policies and measures. Achieving net-zero emissions will require immediate and massive deployment of available clean technology and the acceleration of clean energy innovation solutions, like Passive House Canada’s building standard.
The report carries weight because global governments and industries have, for decades, looked toward the IEA’s reports as key indicators of global energy health and consumption. It has historically taken a conservative position – some might say “pro-oil industry” – on the need to respond to climate change.
While a shock to governments and industries around the world, Passive House Canada has long been an advocate for ambitious climate policies, programs, and regulations. We know in Canada that the federal government is working to develop near-term strategies to support their long-term climate targets, but there is widespread acknowledgement from those concerned about the climate crisis that announcements to date, while headed in the right direction, are not yet ambitious enough to take us where we need to go.
In Canada, the building sector accounts for 13 per cent of our emissions. We know what’s required: maximizing operating efficiency, meeting operating energy requirements with renewable sources, and minimizing embodied carbon, all as rapidly as possible. These steps, in addition to aligning standards and regulations, increasing access and affordability of high-performance building products, and increasing industry capacity to build what we need, are critical to successfully driving down emissions in the building sector. Passive House buildings are being deployed in massive numbers around the globe, reducing energy use by 90 per cent in new buildings and up to 75 per cent in retrofitted buildings. By maximizing efficiency, we minimize the load on renewable energy sources and our electrical grid.
The report offers a roadmap to reduce emissions buildings. Here are some relevant high-level points identified in the report:
- Zero‐carbon‐ready building energy codes should cover building operations as well as emissions from the manufacturing of building construction materials and components.
- Zero‐carbon‐ready energy codes should recognise the important part that passive design features, building envelope improvements and high energy performance equipment play in lowering energy demand, reducing both the operating cost of buildings and the costs of decarbonising the energy supply.
- Whenever possible, new and existing zero‐carbon‐ready buildings should integrate locally available renewable resources to reduce the need for utility‐scale energy supply. A global ban on all new fossil fuel boilers beginning in 2025.
- Zero‐carbon‐ready building energy codes must be implemented in all countries by 2030 at the latest. They need to become a flexible resource for the energy system, using connectivity and automation to manage building electricity demand and the operation of energy storage devices, including EVs.
- Zero‐carbon‐ready building energy codes should also target net‐zero emissions from material use in buildings. Material efficiency strategies can cut cement and steel demand in the buildings sector by more than a third relative to baseline trends, and embodied emissions can be further reduced by more robust uptake of bio‐sourced and innovative construction materials.
- Technology already available will be pivotal in achieving net zero energy buildings by 2030. This includes improved envelopes for new and existing buildings, heat pumps, energy‐efficient appliances, and bioclimatic and material‐efficient building design.
- Achieving decarbonisation of energy use in the sector will require almost all existing buildings to undergo a single in‐depth retrofit by 2050, and new construction to meet stringent efficiency standards.
We were pleased to see a more comprehensive recognition of what’s needed to achieve our climate targets in the building sector that also includes the targeting of embodied carbon to drive down emissions. With heavy industries, such as steel and cement, accounting for 60% of industrial energy consumption and roughly 70% of emissions globally, we can’t overlook or downplay the importance of addressing embodied carbon in our building construction.
By targeting zero-carbon-ready prior to 2050, the report may not recognize the full potential available to reduce energy demand. While this approach tends to be more palatable, we know that zero carbon buildings can and are being built now. It’s more cost and energy efficient to target our end goal as soon as possible given the time and investments required to transform the building sector and see Canada achieve our targets. The report’s recommendation to ban natural gas boilers after 2025 has been widely covered in the press, but it must not be viewed in isolation. Fuel switching alone, a major area of focus for Canadian governments presently, will not see us achieve our emissions reductions targets nor will it deliver better quality buildings.
Overall, we are pleased that this report addresses comprehensively what must be done and by when. It’s time our governments do the same.
Passive House Canada was interviewed by Energy Mix and had the opportunity to comment on the report and how buildings fit into the equation. The article can be viewed here.