Building carbon emissions must be reduced in order to meet the Paris climate targets and achieve net-zero emissions by the year 2050. Buildings account for 39% of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions, with operational emissions accounting for 28% and building materials and construction accounting for 11%.

By 2060, global building floorspace is expected to treble, yet just 3% of new construction investment will be green and effective, locking in significant emissions for decades. Existing building rehabilitation rates are just 1%, less than one-third of what is required to reach the Paris climate goals.

While there are enormous decarbonization issues for buildings, there are also tremendous opportunities. Efficient, zero-carbon buildings use readily available, cost-effective technologies to cut emissions while also improving community health, equity, and economic prosperity.

Decarbonization, electrification, efficiency, and digitization are four key developments driving zero-carbon buildings. These four good “DEEDS” work together to lower carbon emissions and the overall expense of building operations and infrastructure. By eliminating fossil fuel consumption for heating, employing on-site and/or off-site renewable energy, limiting the usage of high global warming potential refrigerants, and using low-carbon, reused, or recycled materials in construction, buildings can attain zero carbon (or even zero carbon ready) performance.

Historically temperate regions, such as the Pacific Northwest of the United States, need air conditioning to avoid heat stress; global warming will increase electricity demand. In warmer climates, unseasonably chilly weather can also raise electricity usage. As a result of the lower (frequently subsidized) cost of the fossil energy and improved electricity investments in infrastructure for expanded generation, transmission, distribution, and management of the increasingly intermittent renewable power supply, this will result in higher costs for building owners in some cases.

Even with the decarbonized energy supply, energy efficiency must continue as a primary goal for zero carbon buildings. Whether the investment is done in the local, on-site generation, or even at the grid level, every dollar spent on energy efficiency saves around two dollars in energy supply. It also lowers the overall cost of prospective grid infrastructure needed to fulfill rising demand. Active efficiency measures such as automated demand reaction and dynamic energy enhancement can offer demand flexibility to complement intermittent renewable generation. While passive measures such as enhanced insulation and better efficiency equipment can decrease total electrical demand, active efficiency initiatives such as automated demand reaction and dynamic energy enhancement can offer demand flexibility to suit intermittent renewable generation.

In buildings, digitalization is a key enabler of energy optimization and demand flexibility. Advanced sensing and controls, data analytics, systems integration, and energy optimization are used in these “smart” buildings to actively reduce energy usage and demand while simultaneously increasing occupant comfort, health, productivity, and facility resilience. In addition to the energy and emissions savings, including these digital capabilities in “smart” equipment and appliances can give additional benefits such as better dependability and remote management.

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