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Is the Future of Buildings Headed Toward Net Zero?

Climate change and its multifaceted impacts across the world have time and again highlighted the need for mitigation measures. Science has made it clear: the biggest contributors to climate change cannot take a back seat when it comes to climate solutions. The built environment is one such key contributor.

As per the UN Environment Programme, the buildings and construction sector is responsible for 36% of final energy use and 39% of global greenhouse gas emissions, of which 11% resulted from manufacturing building materials such as steel, cement and glass.

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Is there a way for the sector to lessen its impact on the climate crisis? The answer is: yes.

Net-zero buildings are crucial to mitigate the sector’s impact on the natural environment. Architects and planners play a key role in implementing these projects via retrofits of existing buildings or constructing new ones from the ground up. But where does one — architect and planner — begin?

First, know the basics of net-zero buildings, amid a myriad of terminology: a net-zero building produces as much electricity on-site as it will consume over a year. In simpler terms, any energy your building sources from the electricity grid will be returned to the grid through on-site production of electricity, often renewable electricity.

Does that mean that installing a few solar panels will help you turn your building into net zero? The answer is: no!

Net zero buildings is a much more comprehensive and holistic process than buying a bunch of solar panels. For countries like India, which rely on fossil fuels like coal for energy production, net zero homes can help improve energy security, reduce dependence on fossil fuels, and reduce the impact of supply disruptions. These buildings also help: reduce energy costs, improve indoor air quality, and generate revenue through the sale of excess energy to the grid.

These net-zero buildings are however sometimes tough to construct, operate and maintain. They require complex and time-consuming design processes, high upfront costs, integration of on-site renewable with the local electricity grid — which isn’t always easy — and restrictions imposed by government regulations.

The ability to deliver such homes rests with planners, developers, designers and architects. There are six key steps for these technical experts to design and deliver such buildings:

  1. Educate your client about net-zero homes, upfront costs, tax incentives and long-term benefits.
  2. Assemble the right team for complex and data-driven processes.
  3. Start with the site. Analyse local climate and site conditions to inform the design of buildings and net-zero strategy.
  4. Let the design do the heavy lifting to reduce electricity loads.
  5. Figure out renewables. In most cases, this will be through solar panels.
  6. Monitor net-zero homes through post-occupancy studies and adjust accordingly. This is crucial for the net-zero design and operation process.

Also Read: Exploring Eco-Friendly Materials in Sustainable Building Design

The current demand for net-zero homes is unusually high among the youth. Hopefully, a few years from now, it won’t be unusual. It’s the way we all need to move forward — to safeguard our future on the only planet we can call home until Elon Musk can build a habitable Mars for everyone!

Mahak Agrawal
Mahak Agrawal

Mahak Agrawal

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