Getting to ultra energy-efficient buildings in B.C. by 2030 Solutions for climate leadership — Part 3

Blog - July 23, 2015 - By Karen Tam Wu

The Center for Interactive Research on Sustainability (CIRS) at the University of British Columbia is one of the province's most energy-efficient buildings. Photo credit: Green Energy Futures on Flikr

The buildings where we live, work and play all have sizeable energy and carbon footprints. For example, your office may be pumping out the same amount of carbon pollution as eight cars and use as much electricity as running your printer all day every day for twenty years!

B.C. has acknowledged, through various initiatives, that buildings need to be addressed in order to reduce our energy use and carbon pollution. Notably, the province has signed onto the idea of ultra energy-efficient buildings. As a member of the Pacific Coast Collaborative, B.C. — along with the Alaska, Washington, Oregon and California — has committed to “lead the way to ‘net-zero’ buildings”.

Having all new buildings in B.C. built to net-zero standards by 2030 is totally within reach. Our vision for how to get there includes three key components to encourage early implementation of net-zero construction:

  • Develop more stringent energy requirements than the building code that local governments could adopt.
  • Launch an exemplary building pilot-project program to test-drive net-zero building development and have examples from which to learn and adapt.
  • Require that new public-sector buildings be built to net-zero standards, so that government leads by example.

Net-zero buildings are ultra energy-efficient: they consume very little energy for lighting, heating, cooling and running appliances and gadgets. These buildings are not a futuristic or idealistic concept. They are already being built around the world and also here in B.C.

B.C.’s commitment complements the initial steps it’s already taken toward net-zero. For example, the province introduced an energy-efficient building strategy in 2008 and a new energy-efficiency requirement in the most recent revision of its building code. For net-zero buildings to contribute towards achieving B.C.’s climate targets in a meaningful timeframe, however, the province must set an aggressive plan and pursue an ambitious pathway. B.C. has yet to define its plan or its pathway.

An important window of opportunity for energy-efficient buildings is open now. With the province currently drafting its Climate Leadership Plan, it can create a plan with targets, a path to achieve net-zero and a commitment to report on progress. We can meet the needs of an increasing population and use much less energy, while at the same time growing the economy and creating jobs.

Strong policies that encourage energy conservation and provide the right tools for those working in the building industry are also required. Some of the tools that would support net-zero buildings include:

  • more rigorous enforcement of the building code.
  • incentives and financing solutions to offset costs, and
  • increasing rate of the carbon tax to reflect real costs of carbon pollution, among other tools.

The background to our vision is discussed in more detail in two papers we released today in partnership with the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions: Evolution of Energy Efficiency Requirements in the B.C. Building Codeand The Path to “Net-Zero Energy” Buildings in B.C.

The opportunity is significant. B.C.’s building sector accounts for 22 per cent of energy use and 12 per cent of carbon pollution in the province. Globally, buildings contribute up to 30 per cent of carbon pollution and consume up to 40 per cent of all energy.

What’s the cost of not acting now? If energy requirements for B.C. buildings continue at current pace, we will not see net-zero buildings before 2050. This would put us at least 20 years behind schedule if we expect to have any chance of successfully tackling climate change.


Karen Tam Wu

Karen is director of the Pembina Institute's buildings and urban solutions program and is based in Vancouver.


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