Retrofitting away operational and embodied carbon
(Battersea Power Station interior, Photo by Sandy J)

Retrofitting away operational and embodied carbon

Retrofitting can save on costs and GHG emissions by improving operational efficiency.

Summary: There are a number of ways in which existing structures can be repurposed when they reach the end of their useful operational life. Indeed even while they are operational, their overall efficiency can be improved to improve their sustainability. This can involve retrofitting more modern, low carbon, energy efficient technologies and features or even reusing materials and elements from existing structures that have themselves come to the end of their lives. There are strong financial arguments in terms of longer term value creation. The funding structures need to suit the development. For residential properties including community-based infrastructure, rather than an individual approach, a 'place-based' approach may be more appropriate.

Why this is important: As well as the reduction in emissions upstream, this type of improvement can also make buildings more cost effective to operate and maintain as well as making them more inclusive through better affordability. A focus on buildings efficiency is, for example, one of the proposals for reducing greenhouse gases (GHGs) by at least 55% by 2030 as part of the EU's 'Fit for 55' package.

The big theme: The built environment, encompassing residential and commercial buildings, communal areas such as parks, and supporting infrastructure such as energy networks, mobility, and water supply, is an important sustainability theme. It is an integral part of societal existence and a major resource consumption problem (40% of global raw materials) and decarbonisation problem (as much as 40% of energy-related GHG emissions) that needs investor, government, business and consumer attention.

The details

In August of 2022, Supertech's residential twin towers in Noida, Uttar Pradesh were demolished, almost thirteen years after construction work started. The Supreme Court had ruled that the towers were constructed in violation of the UP Apartments Act 2010. Supertech believed that they had full approval in 2019 “strictly in accordance with the then prevailing byelaws.”

More than 3,700 kg of explosives were used for the demolition with the then incomplete structures standing at more than 70 metres in height. It was the first time that a building taller than thirty floors had been demolished.

A similar demolition in the municipality of Maradu in Kerala two years previously offered clues to potential issues. One resident claimed that cracks had appeared in the roof of his house as a result of the controlled implosion that demolished the Alfa Serene twin apartment block, while another said his neighbour died from Covid-19 complications while waiting for INR4m ($60,000) compensation. Dust from the rubble that needs to be cleared from the site, to make way for the next construction can linger in the air causing pollution and exacerbating conditions such as asthma. The Central Building Research Institute had installed black boxes in the towers to obtain data to help design future demolitions.

But looking more broadly, when buildings come to the end of their useful life should they be demolished at all?

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