Building for Net Zero | The Independent

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Business Reporter: Building for Net Zero

Buildings consume 40% of the world’s energy, but a French company’s net-zero energy management for sustainable and efficient buildings is changing the landscape.

Media coverage of the transition to a net zero economy has tended to focus on a handful of innovations and trends that are reducing global warming – a crisis made more urgent by the sixth report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. United Nations Climate Change August 2021. Direct air capture plants, for example, can “remove” around 9,000 tonnes of CO2 from the air each year, while restoring trees, to which 48 countries have committed via the Bonn Challenge, would sequester billions of tonnes of carbon over the next century if the commitments are met. meet.

But in the conversation about net zero, the impact of buildings on the trajectory of global warming rarely gets the attention it deserves. Although this is beginning to change, with activists now mobilizing around issues as specific as insulation, the historic omission of buildings from the climate crisis discourse is disconcerting: 40% of the world’s total energy – and in this framework, 60% of its electricity – is consumed inside the buildings. Moreover, the materials used to build them are often harmful to the environment, while the areas in which they predominate are hostile to fauna and flora.

Although greater attention to energy consumption, the installation of double glazing and other strategies can reduce the impact of old buildings on the planet, they will never be more than marginal. The advent of environmentally conscious building design is relatively new: most buildings in the world were constructed long before climate consciousness began to shift into mainstream thinking. We will still need buildings for the essentials of human activity – work, privacy, leisure, retail – but it is clear that their energy consumption must change. And given the irrefutable impact they have on warming Earth temperatures, what exactly can be done?

The answer may have been provided by a 185-year-old French industrial multinational whose technologies underpin the smooth operation of around 70% of the world’s buildings. Schneider Electric is a global specialist in energy management and automation, which began in the east of France as a steelmaker and armament company in the 19th century before turning to electricity in the 1970s.

Today, Schneider Electric is recognized globally as one of the leading partners in digital transformation and sustainability in the built environment. Using pioneering digital technologies, he helped create the largest net-zero building in the United States, where one-third of all greenhouse gas emissions come from buildings. The 3,000 solar panels at the Unisphere in Maryland, owned by biotech firm United Therapeutics, produce one megawatt of power, while an ‘Earth labyrinth’ has been dug under the building for passive cooling and heating . Other features are not lacking: electrochromic glazing on the windows and an automated natural ventilation system throughout the building.

Similarly, Schneider Electric’s IntenCity building in Grenoble, France, broke new ground in net-zero building design. Its long, narrow shape allows sunlight to penetrate every space, reducing the need for artificial lighting and reducing the release of energy into the atmosphere. It’s a big building, but when its energy-saving system is working at full throttle, not only does it consume as much as an average family home, it’s also energy-positive – like the Unisphere it generates, stores and releases its own energy. “The best news is that at IntenCity, we only consume what we need,” says Annick Villeneuve, Digital Buildings Solutions at Schneider Electric. “So we have the ability to store energy, consume and produce only the energy we need in real time, and we can also supply energy to others outside the building. “

IntenCity uses eight times less energy than an average European building, while generating enough renewable energy on site to power more than 200 homes.

There is a clear sustainability argument for this type of design, but also a business argument: green buildings are, on average, 14% less expensive to operate than traditional buildings, and are worth 7% more. Meanwhile, market demand for green buildings is doubling every three years. Research also clearly shows that demand is coming from other areas as well: potential employees would choose one job over another based on sustainability, and 70% of millennials cite a company’s sustainability in their decision to stay. or not long-term in a job.

There is also, finally, the broader reputational power that meeting net zero goals offers. Companies that go above and beyond to ensure they are doing their part for the planet will get all the benefits any company should want: to be conscientious, forward-thinking, innovative, an exemplary global player.

As the IPCC report shows, small tweaks – turning down the heat, keeping the windows closed – just aren’t enough. Radical thought and radical action are needed. Schneider Electric employees speak of “the death of fire” – the shift from fossil fuels and combustion to renewable electricity and greater electrification of buildings as the most realistic way to reduce emissions. With its avant-garde designs, this “death” becomes a reality. Literally and figuratively, Schneider Electric is building new.

For more information, please read our new sustainability blog, visit our new sustainability webpage, and read our new e-guide to sustainable buildings.

Originally published on Business Reporter

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