Journey to Net Zero: Challenges and Opportunities in Achieving Energy Efficiency in Buildings

Published on 30 Jan, 2024read time 6 mins
Components of Net Zero and Energy efficiency still life

The biggest challenge for the built environment is to achieve Energy efficiency in buildings and drive Net Zero carbon emissions for a sustainable future.

The Urban population is increasing and the cities are growing at a fast pace leading to increased demand for electricity. According to the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), in a developed city, buildings consume 70% of the electrical power and are responsible for 40% of the CO2 emissions. A great amount of emissions (70-80%) result from day-to-day operations of HVAC systems and other building assets. With this amount of energy being used and carbon emissions released into the environment, our generation faces the biggest challenge of climate change, the need to decarbonize and achieve Net Zero energy becomes more apparent. This calls for energy efficiency in buildings and it cannot be overlooked.

What are Net Zero Energy Buildings and why do we need them?

Net Zero Energy Building (NZEBs) means that a building produces as much energy as it consumes annually. The objective is to attain balance between the energy consumption of the building and the renewable energy it produces either on-site or through off-site sources. This balance is usually measured in terms of carbon emissions, with the goal of reducing or offsetting the building's overall carbon footprint. Net Zero buildings are the need of the hour and are quickly gaining popularity.

Every year, there is more and more pressure to cut carbon emissions and address energy efficiency in buildings. Globally, several  governments have set 2030 or 2050 as their Net Zero goals. Buildings' high energy usage makes them major contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. NZEBs offer a solution for reducing reliance on fossil fuels, minimising the environmental impact, and addressing climate change. While the initial expenses of creating Net Zero buildings may be greater, they frequently result in long-term cost benefits through lower energy bills. 

Overall, Net Zero Energy buildings play an important role in combating climate change, increasing energy efficiency, and developing more sustainable and resilient structures for the future.

Challenges in Achieving Energy Efficiency in Buildings

With increasing regulations and climate urgency, businesses face more pressure from investors, customers, and regulators to reduce their impact on the environment and show their commitment to sustainability. In order to meet these demands, it is critical to achieve energy efficiency in buildings and reap the benefits of improved operational efficiency, cost savings, and a positive reputation. Let's look at the challenges that property owners and facility management companies encounter as they work towards Net Zero and energy efficient buildings.

1. Retrofitting existing buildings:

One of the primary challenges in achieving Net Zero & Sustainability is existing building infrastructure. Several buildings were constructed without sustainability in mind, making it complicated to retrofit them for energy efficiency.

Retrofitting older buildings to meet modern energy efficiency standards frequently requires major structural improvements. This process can be costly and time-consuming, necessitating meticulous planning and execution to avoid disruptions to occupants or operations.

2. Technological Barriers:

The market offers a variety of technological solutions for Energy efficiency in buildings. Implementing these technologies poses technological barriers. It takes careful planning and investments to integrate new energy-efficient technology into buildings. For example, sensors and IoT devices need to be installed to collect data from a variety of assets.

The transition to energy efficiency also necessitates a skilled workforce in green technology with both digital and technical skills. This would require training the workforce to use advanced equipment, energy management software and technologies.

3. Securing Funding and Incentives:

The adoption of energy-efficient technologies often requires a substantial upfront investment, posing a major challenge for small and medium-sized enterprises. Limited budget constraints, coupled with difficulties in convincing top management of the long-term benefits, make it challenging for SMEs to obtain the necessary financing for energy efficiency projects. This financial hurdle, combined with potential credibility issues, can hinder their ability to invest in lasting upgrades.

4. Navigating complex regulations:

Navigating the complex regulatory landscape necessitates a good understanding of the rules and standards that apply to a specific location, adding another layer of complexity to energy-efficiency measures.

Keeping up with changing regulations and ensuring compliance with numerous requirements can be difficult. This involves constant efforts to stay updated about the changes in building codes and modify strategies accordingly.

Opportunities related to Energy Efficiency in Buildings

1. Long-Term Cost benefits:

The energy bills in the UK have been skyrocketing ever since the COVID-19 pandemic creating an energy crisis. This is a major concern for commercial buildings where the energy consumption is the highest. The normal everyday operations from HVAC systems like heating, cooling and lightning can make normal operating costs very expensive.

You can save 23% of your energy by simply monitoring and automating your HVAC and lighting systems. By optimizing energy performance in buildings, you can reduce energy bills, and lower the maintenance costs providing long-term cost benefits.

2. Integration of Smart Building Technologies:

The adoption of smart building technologies has created new opportunities for energy efficiency in buildings. Utilizing automated systems that regulate energy consumption in accordance with usage patterns and environmental conditions provides a practical and effective solution.

The use of energy-efficient technologies, control systems, and proactive maintenance methods can result in significant cost savings and improved operating efficiency. One such solution is the Internet of Things (IoT), which is transforming building management. Sensors and connected devices collect real-time data on energy consumption, enabling precise energy management and optimisation. 

Moreover, implementation of IoT in buildings can be a game-changer by empowering facility managers to continuously monitor and manage systems remotely, ensuring optimal operation. Additionally, integrating sustainable practices without compromising operational effectiveness and meeting Service Level Agreements (SLAs) presents a delicate balance. Striking the right equilibrium involves avoiding disruptions to operations while successfully implementing energy conservation measures, requiring careful planning and strategic decision-making for a harmonious and efficient built environment.

3. Positive Impact on the Environment as well the Brand Reputation:

Energy managers and facility managers are always under the pressure to reduce energy consumption and conduct high-quality maintenance that adheres to SOPs, industry standards, and regulatory requirements. 

Embarking on the journey towards achieving Net Zero not only continually betters  the environmental impact but also promises a greener and healthier future for everyone. Additionally, aligning facility management practices with government regulations not only ensures environmental compliance but also boosts the brand/company reputation across stakeholders, including investors, customers, and building occupants. This not only strengthens your position in the market but also provides a competitive advantage by complying with industry regulations and exceeding customer expectations.

The Path to Net Zero: A Call for Global Collaboration

The road to Net Zero energy buildings may seem challenging but the opportunities it presents can transform your operations and maintenance in the long run. Adhering to government regulations related to climate change is now mandatory.

With the right set of tools and strategic partnerships you can steer your company towards a future where daily operations align seamlessly with sustainability goals. As we navigate this journey, it is imperative that stakeholders collaborate on a global scale to create a safe built environment that is not only energy-efficient but also resilient and contributes to a high quality of life.