Building for Net Zero | The Independent

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Business Reporter: Building for Net Zero

Buildings consume 40 percent 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 typically focused on a handful of innovations and trends that reduce global warming – a crisis triggered by the sixth report of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in August 2021 gained urgency. Direct air capture plants, for example, can scrub around 9,000 tons of CO2 out of the air annually, while the tree clean-up that 48 countries have committed to as part of the Bonn Challenge would sequester billions of tons of carbon over the next century if the commitments are met are hit.

But in the net-zero debate, the impact of buildings on the trajectory of global warming rarely gets the attention it deserves. Though this is beginning to change, with activists now championing issues as specific as insulation, the historical omission of buildings from the discourse on the climate crisis is confusing: 40 percent of all the world’s energy — and 60 percent of its electricity — inside consumed by buildings. In addition, the materials from which they are built are often environmentally unfriendly, while areas in which they are prevalent are hostile to animals and plants.

While paying more attention to energy use, installing double glazing and other strategies can reduce the impact of old buildings on the planet, they will only ever be marginal. The advent of green building design is relatively recent: most of the world’s buildings were constructed long before climate awareness moved towards mainstream thinking. We will always need buildings for the majority of human activities – work, home life, entertainment, retail – but it is clear that their energy use needs to change. And given the irrefutable impact they are having on global warming, what exactly can be done?

The answer may have come from a 185-year-old French industrial conglomerate whose technologies help an estimated 70 percent of the world’s buildings run smoothly. Schneider Electric is a global specialist in energy management and automation that began as a steel and armaments manufacturer in eastern France in the 19th century before switching to electricity in the 1970s.

Today, Schneider Electric is known worldwide as a leading partner for digital transformation and sustainability in the built environment. Through the use of breakthrough digital technologies, it has 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 on Maryland’s Unisphere, owned by biotechnology company United Therapeutics, produce a megawatt of power, while an “earth maze” has been dug beneath the building for passive cooling and heating. Other features abound: electrochromic glazing on the windows and an automatic natural ventilation system throughout.

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

IntenCity uses eight times less energy than the average European building while providing enough on-site renewable energy generation to power over 200 homes.

There is a clear sustainability case for this type of design, but also a business one: green buildings are, on average, 14 percent cheaper to run than traditional ones and are worth seven percent more. The market demand for green buildings now doubles every three years. The research also makes it clear that demand comes from other areas as well: potential employees would choose a job based on sustainability, and 70 percent of millennials cite a company’s sustainability when deciding whether or not to stay with a company long-term Work.

Finally, there’s also the broader reputational power that sticking to net-zero goals offers. Companies that are seen to be doing their part to help the planet will receive all the benefits that every company should wish for: being conscientious, forward-thinking, innovative and a model global player.

As the IPCC report shows, the small adjustments – turning down the heating, keeping the windows closed – are simply not enough. Radical thinking and radical action are required. Schneider Electric employees are talking about the “death to fire” – switching from fossil fuels and combustion to renewable electricity and more electrification of buildings as the most realistic way to reduce emissions. With his innovative designs, this “death” becomes reality. Literally and figuratively, Schneider Electric is rebuilding.

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

Originally published on Business Reporter

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