CaGBC Retrofit strategy could cut emissions in half

Canada Green Building Council’s (CaGBC’s) recommendations could reduce 21 million tonnes of carbon by 2030 and help the country achieve its climate change goals.
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Earlier this year, Canada Green Building Council (CaGBC) released a detailed roadmap for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from large buildings (e.g. office towers, recreation centres, hospitals, arenas, and schools) across the country. CaGBC’s “A Roadmap for Retrofits in Canada” demonstrates the critical role existing buildings play in realizing Canada’s low carbon future. The recommendations to retrofit large buildings will help achieve a reduction in GHG emissions of at least 30 per cent—12.5 million tonnes (2.75 billion lb)—by 2030, with the potential to reach 51 per cent—21.2 million tonnes (46.7 billion lb). The roadmap provides government and industry with a targeted plan to yield the greatest carbon savings from buildings and grow Canada’s clean economy.

Developed by engineering services consultancy firm WSP, this report advances recommendations made in CaGBC’s 2016 Building Solutions to Climate Change research by analyzing how the type, size, and age of large buildings, along with energy sources and the carbon intensity of regional electrical grids in Canada, can affect energy efficiency and carbon emissions. The report identifies buildings with the largest carbon reduction potential and recommends province-specific retrofit pathways including a combination of recommissioning, deep retrofits, renewable energy, and fuel-switching actions.

The report says the reduction is achievable by targeting buildings with the greatest potential to reduce carbon—offices, shopping malls, universities, and arenas constructed between 1960 and 1979.

Alberta and Ontario currently emit the most carbon, a result of the carbon intensity of the former’s electricity grid and the large number of tall buildings in the latter. Therefore they have the greatest potential for reducing emissions.

All provinces need to prioritize recommissioning for buildings between 1858 m2 and 18,580 m2 (25,000 and 200,000 sf) and deep retrofits for buildings more than 35 years old to meet the target. These two actions will reduce emissions by a collective total of 4.1 MT carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e), providing 62 per cent of the reduction activity needed.

Fuel switching must be completed in 20 per cent of buildings more than 35 years old. Currently, fuel switching is attractive in provinces with clean electricity grids such as British Columbia, Manitoba, Québec, New Brunswick, and Newfoundland and Labrador. In these regions, significant effort should be put into increasing the adoption of highly efficient heat pump technology. This will reduce emissions by 1.6 MT CO2e, or 25 per cent of the reduction activity needed.

In provinces with carbon-intense electricity grids like Alberta, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia, 30 per cent of buildings will need to use renewable energy in order to meet the target. This will reduce emissions by 0.9 MT CO2e, representing 13 per cent of the reduction activity needed.

“This report makes it clear targeted strategic investments in existing buildings represent a massive opportunity for significant carbon reductions across the country,” said Thomas Mueller, CEO of CaGBC. “We are showing how each region can contribute to meeting Canada’s climate change goals through a targeted approach to building retrofit and clean energy. Governments at all levels are encouraged to develop progressive policies and programs to guide investment and support for establishing a robust retrofit economy in Canada.”

The report also recommends the federal government include a GHG metric in Canada’s future retrofit building code, develop regional retrofit roadmaps, prioritize investments in scalable retrofit projects, and support mandatory energy benchmarking.

This roadmap will be followed by another CaGBC report, which will be published in spring 2018. This will provide policy options to overcome barriers hindering the implementation of retrofit projects and identify financing mechanisms necessary to stimulate the retrofit economy.

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