Many cities worldwide have started taking their own initiatives to adapt to climate change by building or transforming structures to have zero net emissions buildings as a way to cut their carbon footprint while saving on energy costs. Buildings contribute a major part of global greenhouse gas emissions. Therefore the building sector is finding lots of support from city governments who see the new or renovated buildings both as a way to save costs and a way to save the planet.
Zero net energy homes are gaining popularity. In London, renovations are being implemented using a version of energiesprong, a Dutch model for refurbishing homes to ZNE, or net zero-energy levels. Each renovation is completed within a week while the occupants remain inside. Everything is financed through future energy savings and occupants can expect to pay less on their monthly bills and some get a new kitchen and bathroom out of it as well. In Vancouver, Canada, new building codes are being designed that require all new city-owned and institutional facilities to produce ZNE based on the European “passive haus” model. Passive houses have high levels of insulation, well insulated window frames and glazings, thermal bridge free design and construction, airtight building envelope, ventilation with highly efficient heat or energy recovery. A passive house requires as little as 10% of the heating and cooling energy used by typical buildings – a reduction of up to 90%. Passive homes use less than 1.5 litres of oil per square meter for heating and in warmer climates require dramatically less energy for cooling. While Passive House buildings are held up to stringent quality criteria, the concept itself is very flexible and can be adapted to a variety of building uses and almost any building style. Each building is able to be adapted to its particular climate.
Many cities already stipulate the Passive House standard in their building regulations. Sydney, Australia, is creating one for all new residential high-rises, and ZNE buildings are even starting to pop up in India and China. One New York State company, the Hudson Passive Project, is an energy conservation project, a prototype home-of-tomorrow with substantial energy-saving potential. As many New York Companies, Hudson Passive works with the New York State Energy Research Development Authority‘s High Performance Energy Challenge program.
Other cities in North America are considering doing the same, which will radically shift America’s real estate markets. Cities, such as New York and Cambridge, Massachusetts, already have either a “zero net emissions” (ZNE) requirement in place for all new municipal buildings or are working on one. And more than a dozen other cities across the U.S. are working on plans to get all new buildings to ZNE by 2030 and retrofit all existing buildings to ZNE by 2050. This is the future of climate policy, happening now.