Summary: Deep energy retrofitting has the potential to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) from the built environment, particularly from operating emissions and even transform existing buildings into carbon stores. The materials exist to do it, potentially offering solutions for new builds too. Includes summary of a report by RMI looking at 24 existing exterior insulation systems, analysing their 'cradle-to-gate' GHG emissions
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 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 (40% of energy-related GHG emissions) that needs investor, government, business and consumer attention.
When looking at the built environment there are broadly four phases:
- Design: taking the requirements of the ultimate user of a building or structure and translating them into a practical plan for construction and operation, encompassing a number of disciplines to ensure that all of the required systems work together.
- Construction / Deconstruction: taking raw materials and resources and assembling them to produce a building or facility that is ready for occupation and use; and the opposite: demolishing a structure safely and disposing of the resulting waste materials.
- Operation: activities enabling the building or structure to fulfil its function. The two main areas are 'thermal regulation' (keeping the environment at an appropriate temperature) and 'powering activities' (enabling us to do stuff in those facilities like running a washing machine or running a computer).
- Interaction: how individual buildings and structures are linked together, either physically or through systems like roads, energy and communication, acting as a single ecosystem.