Deep Retrofits: Transforming Buildings in the face of the Climate Crisis
In a recent global statement, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) emphasized that there are “multiple, feasible and effective options to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to human-caused climate change, and they are available now.”
On March 20th, the IPCC’s chair Hoesung Lee emphasized the action governments must take following the panel’s latest Synthesis Report, stating the urgency of taking more ambitious action towards climate change. The IPCC report shows that “if we act now, we can still secure a liveable, sustainable future for all.”
Strengthening standards at all levels
It is understood that 40% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions come from buildings and, if left unchecked, are set to double by 2050. So far, a necessary shift to responsible building is being shown in mandates, legislation, and municipal standards designed to limit GHG emissions.
The last few years have indeed seen a significant push, raising awareness of the need for governments to implement stronger policies for reducing embodied carbon, including in the existing building space.
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Funding for reduced carbon efforts
In addition to introducing policies, efforts to foster adoption of green building standards within the building industry have followed. This includes a push for retrofitting of existing buildings alongside numerous grants and government-driven funding initiatives to produce lower carbon and GHG emissions and reduce the industry’s toll on the environment.
The Government of Canada recently introduced its Deep Retrofit Accelerator Initiative (DRAI), investing $200 million between 2023 and 2027 for a program designed to contribute to transforming the buildings sector in support of Canada’s climate goals. A deep retrofit of a building consists of extensively overhauling its systems, improving building envelope conditions, and utilizing best practices with the goal of significantly reducing energy consumption and GHG emissions.
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The DRAI provides funding to organizations, dubbed “retrofit accelerators,” that can help building owners in the development of deep retrofits in commercial, institutional, and multi-unit residential buildings in Canada.
With the goal of driving market transformation, the DRAI is focused on building capacity and comprehension of deep retrofit development and implementation (a hurdle for some prospective owners) while facilitating the development of deep retrofit projects in Canada.
Additionally, funding incentives such as the Government of Canada’s Green & Inclusive Community Buildings, Federation of Canadian Municipalities Green Municipal Fund, and the CMHC National Housing Co-Investment Fund exist to further decarbonization in buildings by achieving green building certifications.
Entuitive recently worked with several of our clients in Western Canada to conduct Climate Risk Vulnerability Assessments (CRVA) and carbon life cycle analyses on community buildings to help them achieve CaGBC’s Zero Carbon Building v4 certification to qualify for GICB grants.
The Deep Energy Retrofit Shift
While Deep Energy Retrofits can deliver major reductions in embodied carbon, operational carbon and greenhouse gas emissions, the industry is yet to see widespread adoption of these projects. Newly created building standards, or those being implemented in the next five to 10 years can seem intimidating and costly, but these are, as the IPCC states, our industry’s “multiple, feasible and effective options” to address climate change.
Where some owners may struggle to know where to start when it comes to making the business case for retrofitting an asset, or how they can reduce carbon and greenhouse gases to comply with municipal emissions standards, others simply feel unable to “make the numbers work.”
When considering the building retrofit landscape, these two takeaways are key:
- Building performance standards, to be effective, are designed to become more stringent over time, but also to allow owners time to respond; and
- The need for businesses to demand low carbon buildings and infrastructure is pivotal, as they have significant pull for adopting sustainability.
As DERs have been identified as a viable solution within the industry, representing the types of efforts the IPCC urges our governments to take on, there is an interesting dynamic at play: the responsibility of owners to update their buildings for a greener future seems to be increasingly understood, however the inaction around meeting newly established and approaching green standards is having a critical impact.
Planning the first step: A Strategic Decarbonization Assessment
While it is evident that owners must work with sustainable building experts to ensure building performance compliance in the coming years, mapping out first steps may not always be clear.
For some, this can mean upgrading and introducing systems to coincide with newly established standards, but with phasing-in major changes, ongoing measurements, and financial implications, the first step is really a full-on assessment to understand the long-term picture.
A Strategic Decarbonization Assessment (SDA) is a long-term financial planning tool for building owners to manage carbon emissions and energy use. An SDA can help owners:
- Develop decarbonization term (years)
- Feed in their baseline starting point
- Define a business-as-usual path and analyze divergence scenarios
- Develop a discounted cash flow model of different investment scenarios with as much detail as possible
- Value non-energy benefits
- Develop near-term years (requiring more accuracy and detail)
- Develop long-term years (more over-arching, directional)
If you are a building owner and interested in how your asset might be affected by changing green building standards in your region, please contact us to learn more about our work with sustainable buildings and our Deep Energy Retrofit services.