A Brief Guide to a Net-Zero Carbon Design
Climate change and the reduction of carbon emissions have been at the forefront of engineers, designers, and architects’ minds for a number of years, but in recent years the emphasis and effort to tackle climate change and drastically reduce our carbon outputs has increased ten-fold.
Recent reports from the IPCC and increasing pressures to make real change to slow the effects of climate change are now front-page news and this now turns the attention to everyone across the globe to pose the question of ‘what can we do?’
Organisation & groups of engineering and sustainability professionals have been actively producing and collaborating on frameworks, guides, and a number of invaluable sets of documents to enable all stakeholders involved with a project to be informed of how they can make a difference, LETI, BBP & UKGBC to name a few, we will include links to a few published guides at the bottom of this document but we certainly advice taking a look at these organizations and the work they are doing.
As a company that is passionate about the implementation of quality, low energy & carbon design, we have put together a quick guide on the key areas to review on your project/building/portfolio to work towards achieving net-zero.
What is Net Zero
Firstly, I think it’s important to identify what net-zero carbon truly means and what we are aiming to achieve in our designs. Net-zero means that the development, operation, maintenance, and decommissioning of a building balances the amount of carbon added versus removed from the atmosphere. A lot of the time Net-zero is referenced as operational carbon only and this is a key change that needs to be seen to truly achieve net-zero in the required time frames. The impact of a building should be measured from ‘cradle to grave’ incorporating all operations and use to get a true representation of the building’s carbon life.
Below we will break down some of the key areas to be considered
Operational Energy is the first thought when Net-zero is mentioned, this is the carbon that is produced during the operation of the building, which includes heating, cooling, lighting, etc. The operational energy can be reduced in a number of ways from high levels of fabric efficiency, good environmental design, low carbon heating systems, and elimination of cooling requirements.
One element that is often overlooked due to the exclusion from Building Regulations Part L is un-regulated energy sources, this includes appliances and usage, this can have a huge contribution to the energy usage and carbon emissions generated, including your un-regulated energy usage within net-zero calculations will allow for a clearer view on total energy usage for the building.
A big talking point and rightly so is embodied carbon, this includes the complete lifecycle of the building, from the manufacture of the materials used within the build, transportation, maintenance across the lifespan of the building, and waste and recycling of products once the building is decommissioned/upgraded, a huge amount of carbon is used in the construction, upgrading and maintaining a building so understanding the impact of the environment this process will have and how selecting the right materials from the right suppliers can drastically reduce the amount of embodied carbon.
All of the above must be considered to determine the true carbon output for the building for its complete lifespan to allow accurate designs to be made to achieve the net-zero carbon target. a key element is adopting these ambitions early on and understanding the benefits from the viewpoint of all stakeholders as well as the environmental impact.
A number of schemes are available that incorporate these elements such as BREEAM, LEED, NABERS. these schemes open the discussion and allow for credits or similar to be achieved for assessing and designing to a net-zero standard.