• Sarah Toogood

Carbon and Energy Efficiency in Building Projects

We attended the Alberta Green Building Symposium in Calgary this past fall put on by the Alberta Chapter of the Canadian Green Building Council. We were exposed to several case studies of sustainable building design and retrofit projects that consultants and developers collaborated on to meet efficiency goals. The words "zero carbon", "net zero", "carbon offsetting" and "energy efficiency" were tossed around a lot. It is important to understand how each of these goals will impact a project differently, and on a bigger level how these actions can impact society.


I attended the workshop on the new Zero Carbon Building Standard that has been created by the Canadian Green Building Council. This standard in Canada is the first published zero-carbon building certification protocol globally, though many other countries are not far behind. This standard is a big step, however, wide implementation of it in new and existing buildings is the challenge . I was very interested to learn that buildings in Canada contribute approximately 35% of all Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions annually. I saw this as a huge opportunity that we as business and home owners have the power to change!



The definition given by CaGBC of a zero carbon building is "A building that is highly energy-efficient and produces onsite, or procures, carbon-free renewable energy in an amount sufficient to offset the annual carbon emissions associated with operations". In essence this means that a building can use fossil fuels and emit carbon as long as they produce an equivalent value in renewable energy . The standard provides two different certifications for building design and building performance, with different calculations and verification. This allows for existing buildings as well as new construction to be deemed "zero carbon buildings". Some question the need for a zero-carbon building designation when most green building operates through the levels of LEED certification (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design). The key difference appears between energy and carbon. The ZCB standard focuses in on carbon equivalency and actual emissions so that as a country we can move towards our emission reduction goals in a quantifiable way. Whereas LEED only has one credit category addressing "energy and atmosphere" which does not guarantee any certain amount of emission reduction per overall certification. Both certifications do address embodied carbon, and integrated design processes to decrease waste at varying levels. Though overall LEED is a more robust program with levels of certification and global recognition.


There are many successful new build projects that achieve efficiency goals, however this is a small portion of the issue. Existing inefficient buildings are everywhere and if they are slowly abandoned for new builds, that is an extreme amount of waste. More focus on the LEED O&M certifications and Zero-Carbon Standard for existing buildings has been made, and this shift needs to continue! Unique solutions for all building and their function are available with varying levels of up front cost that can greatly increase efficiency as well as occupant comfort and tenant rates.


One challenge with energy metrics and goals is that accurate comparisons are not always made. An example is source and site energy use in a building. Source energy traces back to the raw fuel input, thereby accounting for any losses. Whereas site energy is the amount consumed by a building as reflected in utility bills which is more commonly compared and tabulated. Not to mention the variability of carbon intensity per fuel type per region in Canada. Accurate source energy must be determined to accurately compare a building using different fuel sources or existing in varying locations. The carbon equivalent of grid electricity varies a huge amount on location, and can make achieving zero carbon a lot more or less attainable.




Being in the prairies, zero-carbon is a daunting task, the graph above shows that it is more unattainable here then anywhere in Canada. However, what is feasible, is every building using LESS carbon and every building owner getting MORE educated. Every building tracking their carbon footprint or getting an audit is the first step. Depending on project goals, ownership and available capital, certain sustainability certifications may be more or less attainable.


Switch Engineering is committed to bring LEED best practices into every project and research any grants or rebates that may be applicable to provide incentives for green building. It may not be Zero-Carbon Designated or LEED Platinum, but every step to increase efficiency is beneficial. Not only is it better for the earth, but more efficient buildings see the payback of their investments in reduction of utility costs. Putting effort towards sustainability is proven to positively impact all areas of the triple bottom line: economic, social and environmental. Switch Engineering does level 1-3 Energy Audits, Recommissioning Studies, Engineering studies, and has LEED credentialed employees and are members of CaGBC in Alberta and will continue to educate ourselves on the leading sustainable practices in the industry.


Currently, we are a program ally for Energy Efficiency Alberta who are using the Carbon Tax to fund incentives for Energy Audits, Engineering Studies and Recommissioning Studies. Up to 100% of project costs are available!


Switch Engineering is in the research stage of tracking our own operational emissions and plan on offsetting the carbon use by incorporating solar for power and water heating and boilers fueled by biomass. Whatever stage you are in for emission reductions, we want to help. These topics are increasingly more important and will soon be mandatory disruptions, why not start now.


Next post will share a case study of the outcomes of an Energy Audit we conducted for a freight warehouse in Yellowknife, NWT.



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