Net Zero and Solar: Challenges in the Industry
This blog is part of our Net Zero series for World Green Building Week 2017 – read more here.
The concept of achieving a net zero energy building is becoming increasingly popular, although, in reality, only a very small number actually achieve this. No matter how efficient a building is, it will not reach net zero energy consumption without the help of renewables; the most popular being Solar PV, particularly for on-site generation. Solar PV has increased rapidly over the last decade but in early 2016, the UK solar industry took a significant blow due to government feed in tariffs being cut by 65%.
“Do not let this discourage you in reaching your goals; there is probably a lot more that can be done first.”
The cuts lead to a drop in solar installations of more than 80%, since the payback periods are now often deemed too long to make the projects feasible. However, do not let this discourage you in reaching your goals; there is probably a lot more that can be done first. Below highlights some of the areas that can be looked at to improve efficiency, before trying to hit zero emissions through renewables. It’s a lot easier to offset your emissions if you don’t produce many to begin with.
Taking a holistic approach to net zero buildings
Understand your energy – Compare the performance against benchmarks, such as the Real Estate Environmental Benchmark (REEB). Establish a metering and energy management plan and utilise data management software, such as SIERA, to identify the high energy users. If you can’t monitor it, you can’t manage it.
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Building Fabric – Find a sensible balance between daylight, heat loss and solar gain. Is air leakage evident? Is there a need for solar reflective film?
Ventilation – Focus on minimising fan power and running hours. Can the windows be opened and a combination of natural and mechanical methods be adopted?
Heating and cooling – Systems should be designed for efficient year-round operation and not just to meet peak demand. Implement controls such as a seasonal set point strategy.
Lighting – Develop a lighting strategy using daylight, efficient fittings and controls. The appropriate amount of light should only be provided where it is needed.
Equipment – Implement power management strategies and switch equipment off at night. Where possible, use energy efficient servers, computers, monitors and appliances.
Other services – Saving water saves energy. Are the urinals on a sensor flushing system? Minimise unnecessary lift use. Has power factor correction been considered?
People – Engage with occupants on sustainability issues. Establish ‘green teams’ and provide simple user guides making it easy for them to save energy.
The above provides an example of some of the steps that can be taken to help achieve a net zero building and illustrates the holistic approach it requires. In practice, a comprehensive energy management plan should be implemented, including the conducting of detailed energy audits and execution of identified energy reduction measures.
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Although renewables are a fundamental component in achieving net zero, they are by no means a prerequisite for setting a goal to achieve a net zero energy building. In time, subsidy-free Solar PV investment will become more attractive as cost continue to fall, so it’s important that buildings are ready to maximise the benefits when they do.