How will the push for net zero buildings change real estate?

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Net zero energy buildings have become a big talking point. But what does a net zero building really look like? And is it really achievable?

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How will the push for net zero buildings change real estate?
Energy efficiency in buildings has become a big talking point ever since the ambitious goal for all new buildings to be ‘nearly zero energy’ by 2020 was launched in the EU in 2010. And it was cast into the spotlight yet again at the Paris Climate Agreement. But what does a net zero building really look like? And is it achievable?

Not just new build
Although there’s an ongoing debate over the exact definition of net zero buildings, it basically refers to buildings which are highly energy efficient and generate all the energy they need to power themselves on-site through renewable energy, or those that produce no carbon emissions on a net basis each year. It’s not just new buildings being targeted; energy efficiency and deep refurbishment of existing properties are on the agenda too.

Ambitious targets
The property sector has a huge role to play in delivering a low carbon economy across the EU – contributing approximately 40 per cent of total carbon emissions. In recognition of this, the first ever ‘Buildings Day’ was held at COP21 in Paris, where leading organisations in the property sector, including JLL, pledged to play their part in reaching the 2˚C climate goal by moving towards new net zero buildings by 2020, and refurbished buildings by 2030.

Such ambitions have been welcomed by the World Green Building Council (WorldGBC) which in June 2016, launched a project called Advancing Net Zero. The plan is to get national Green Building Councils to introduce a net zero certification scheme. Over 10 Councils are already on board, including countries with some of the largest and fastest growing building markets.

Ahead of the curve
The net zero push is not without precedent or exemplars, though. Under the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive, the European Commission already requires all new buildings to be nearly zero-energy by end 2020, and all new public buildings by 2018. While national governments may be resisting such changes, some cities such as London have introduced radical new carbon rules.

If a new home fails to achieve net zero carbon emissions either through its building fabric or on-site renewables, the developer has to make an offset payment to the local authority. But this has raised concerns about whether it is realistic or even possible to deliver zero-carbon homes on tight, high-density city sites. While others remain unconvinced that the offset payments are enough to deter developers from thinking twice about being ‘green’.

Elsewhere we are seeing real progress. In Auckland, the Zero Energy House project is noteworthy not just because it utilizes the first example of roof-integrated photovoltaic tiles of its type in New aZealand. In its first year of operation it generated double the energy used and returned an income surplus. Meanwhile the Bullitt Center in Seattle is powered by a 244 kW rooftop solar array, comprising some 575 solar panels, it also sits atop a ground-source heat exchange system made up of 26 wells.

The path to net zero
Such examples prove that net zero is achievable, albeit not easy. There remain, though, perception issues to overcome, so we need more education. In short, net zero, effectively means getting everyone in the construction community on board, and soon. As the climate maps suggest, we need to move towards deep emissions cuts across the sector – and that includes every builder and developer around the world, as each has a role to play.

This article was first published on JLL Real Views, JLL’s global site providing expert insights on the trends and developments shaping real estate.

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