The real work towards net zero must take place in the buildings which make up the cities where most of us work and live, says Schneider Electric’s Louise Monger.
Buildings are responsible for 23 per cent of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions.
Monger, Schneider Electric’s vice president for digital buildings, says the technology for net zero carbon cities exists today.
“But cities are a complex dynamic of thousands of buildings, businesses, industries and stakeholders. Driving change at scale is hard. It requires alignment on objectives, specialised skills and healthy doses of collaboration, grit and determination,” she says.
Achieving net zero carbon emissions will require a swift transition to clean energy and energy efficiency measures at scale.
The World Economic Forum Net Zero Carbon Cities Programme aims to accelerate the integration of smart energy infrastructure, clean energy, and ultra-efficient buildings, to achieve net zero carbon ambitions.
“We will need even more energy to come from renewable sources and we will need cars, heating and other activities to be powered by clean electricity. This will require significant investment in smart energy infrastructure such as smart meters, micro grids and electric vehicle charging stations.”
Monger says starting with the clean slate of a new building is arguably an easier task than upgrading existing buildings. A new building can leverage technology from the outset, digitising processes from design to construction to operation.
“While city sky lines are dotted with cranes, the overwhelming proportion of cities are existing buildings that are decades old. We cannot become carbon neutral without transforming them.”
Existing buildings can be retrofitted with energy efficient technologies that automatically adapt the heating or cooling conditions based on occupancy levels, for instance.
“Overlay that with technologies that make the management and operations of a building more efficient and we are starting to solve the problem at scale – delivering an estimated 30 per cent reduction in energy use and operational costs.”
Widespread investment in smart energy infrastructure and the digitisation of operations will enable the collection of masses of data, Monger notes. “That data can be leveraged to make decisions in real time and anticipate the needs of users, improving the comfort, experience, efficiency, and the sustainability of buildings.”
A raft of stakeholders is involved in buildings, including the real estate sector, utilities, technology vendors, financiers, state and local governments. Each has their own net zero carbon ambitions, timelines, approaches and priorities.
“Cooperation and collaboration between stakeholders, sharing risks, benefits and lessons learned along the way will be crucial,” Monger says.
“Government needs to take a leadership position, setting goals and ensuring regulations support reduced emissions. Sustainability partners, like Schneider Electric, can support with technology, advisory services, power purchase agreements and efficient digital technology.
“Time is a factor. To meet 2050 and 2030 targets we need to move now. Buildings and energy distribution systems are big and static. Converting them will take time, with years of planning involved in some of the larger transitions in our energy systems.
“Net zero cities will require integration of smart energy infrastructure, clean energy, and ultra-efficient buildings, but also leadership and determination.”