Could you imagine all of the buildings in Canada producing as much energy as they create? It might yet be possible with the net zero building strategy gaining ground.
Net zero buildings are gaining worldwide attention in the face of the blatant climate crisis. The ideas is that a house or building would produce as much energy as it uses over the course of one year. This is a rigorous and difficult standard to meet; but it does pose an important challenge to developers and architects.
The challenge: to transform how we think about design and construction. Net zero requires the building produces as much as it uses in a year through renewable energy resources without the use of on-site combustion, or any carbon-creating materials. Developers looking to adhere to net zero standards must look towards the International Living Future Institute, who created the Net Zero Energy Building Certification (NZEP), the worldwide standard for sustainable building. Their report, Living Building Challenge 3.0, explains, “the challenge aims to transform how we think about every single act of design and construction as an opportunity to positively impact the greater community of life and the cultural fabric of our human communities.”
There are many ways for buildings to reach net zero standards through heating, cooling, electrical needs, energy conservation, and on-site renewable generation. Some examples of net zero resources include solar panels, wind energy, geothermal technologies, and adjustable windows for natural cooling.
Energy consumption of commercial and institutional buildings in Canada accounts for 12 per cent of the country’s secondary energy use and produces 11 per cent of the national Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Without a dedication to producing sustainable buildings, these numbers will only increase. The challenge remains how to create net zero infrastructure that will keep Canadians warm during the sometimes harsh winters they face. The Canadian government has funded a strategic research network that gathers 29 researchers from 15 universities nation-wide to look into how to implement net zero infrastructure in a country where the climate is so precarious.
Photovoltaics has emerged as a potential heating source for residential and commercial net zero buildings. This energy source converts solar energy into direct current electricity and produces a photovoltaic effect. The first commercial net zero building in Canada, the Mosaic Centre for Conscious Community and Commerce, used this energy source to heat their state-of-the-art commercial building successfully in chilly Edmonton. The first residential net zero building was established in Guelph, Ont. with the grand opening in September 2015.
Imagine a city full of buildings that create their own energy! Of course, this dream won’t become a reality for at least a decade, but we can at least start to work towards it. How else are we going to reduce our carbon footprint enough to actually make a difference?