Engineers Play Major Role in the 2030 Challenge and the Drive to Net Zero
April 26, 2010
By Robert Bolin, Syska Hennessy Group
Appeared in Real Estate Finance & Investment
As the importance of energy performance and efficiency continues to increase, todays design and construction professionals have the challenging task of making buildings more efficient and sustainable. Not only have these high-performance goals become typical requirements for business owners and developers, but they have also become environmentally conscious initiatives, as articulated through the 2030 Challenge.
Recognizing the significant impact that commercial buildings have on energy use and the environment, advocacy group Architecture 2030 issued the 2030 Challenge in 2005 to the global architecture and building community in an effort to help gradually reduce greenhouse gas emissions annually. According to Architecture 2030, as much as 76% of the energy produced by domestic coal-fired power plants is used to support todays built environment.
The 2030 Challenge hopes to guide the design industry into stabilizing and reversing GHG emissions which contribute to global warming. Within the next ten years, the desire is to keep global warming less than one degree centigrade above today's level. Targeted in phases, the plan to scale back fossil fuel use includes calling for a 60% reduction by 2010, an 80% reduction by 2020, and 100% cut by 2030--making all newly constructed buildings and major modernizations carbon neutral, or net zero, when compared to the average performance for that building type. In other words, buildings need to produce at least as much energy as they consume annually when accounted for at the building site. For existing building renovations the goal is a similarly aggressive challenge of reducing fossil fuel use by 50% compared to the average performance for that building type.
The mechanical engineer plays an integral and invaluable part in the drive to achieve net-zero and carbon neutral buildings; and the 2030 Challenge can become an important part of the process. Engineers approach the design of well integrated, high performance buildings by:
Seeking to first optimize the building by reducing loads e.g. tuning building façade insulation levels, optimizing glass performance, incorporating solar shading, and installing efficient lighting systems
Leveraging local climate and geology for passive conditioning strategies e.g. effectively using daylight to illuminate the indoor space, providing operable windows for natural ventilation when appropriate, or using solar/geothermal systems to heat and cool buildings
Optimizing systems with appropriate technologies, controls and instrumentation for monitoring e.g. high efficiency HVAC systems and controls, and incorporating monitoring devices so building operators and managers know how the building is performing and can quickly identify where to focus attention when performance issues arise
Commissioning them so they are working correctly from day one not just testing and balancing, but commissioning systems in an integrated fashion since this is the way buildings actually operate
Looking at renewable on-site generation technologies to help get the rest of the way to net zero regardless of the combined effect of all of the previous strategies and efforts, buildings will still require some power to operate. But these components will be fundamentally smaller because of the previous strategies and technologies implemented. Some renewable (onsite) technologies include solar photovoltaics (PVs), building integrated PVs, solar thermal, small urban wind generators, bio-fuel cells, micro turbines and cogeneration.
Since its inception in 2005, thousands of firms and organizations--including design firms, contractors, government agencies, municipalities, universities, non-profits, and trade organizations such as the American Institute of Architects, have joined the 2030 Challenge. All are working together to create high performance, integrated designs intended to make net-zero buildings a reality.
Up for the challenge and the opportunity to be agents of change, design professionals, especially engineers, know that what they do will have a tremendous impact on the success of their clients and their buildings, the future of communities, and the preservation of the environment.