According to UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme) large buildings, especially those in big cities, contribute to 30% of greenhouse gas emissions. These large buildings are usually made up of offices requiring constant lighting and air conditioning (or heating) demanding large volumes of electricity.
“Net zero buildings are highly energy-efficient buildings that get their energy from renewable sources to achieve net zero carbon emissions.”
With World Green Building Week coming to a close, UNEP wants to focus on making all buildings “net zero” by 2050. This is a bold target, but strategies such as increasing energy efficiency by using LED light bulbs and creating better-insulated structures in new builds, are small steps that reduce both electricity consumption and cost.
Net zero does not only apply to New York City skyscrapers. The common rhetoric in the Caribbean is that each island is too small to have a major impact on reducing emissions or affecting climate change. This is not the case, 40 million people live in the Caribbean and due to the recent devastating effects of hurricanes within the region, entire islands have to be rebuilt from the ground up. This horrific circumstance provides an opportunity for this reconstruction to be both more resilient and resistant to strong storms but also integrating sustainability as a key component. This does not only apply to commercial buildings either but also residential construction as well. Architects and contractors within the region need to consider the many positives associated with net zero or net low-emission buildings. These types of houses that are built to be more energy efficient and resistant to hurricanes will be a lot cheaper in the long run while also having a positive impact on the environment.
Though urgency is undoubtedly a factor to the people, who have been displaced from their homes. We need to take a moment and consider the long term, it is extremely unsustainable and unrealistic to rebuild houses that will be damaged every year in hurricanes. Especially with hurricanes predicted to be just as strong or stronger than Maria and Irma in years to come due to the rising temperatures of our planet – as pointed out in the Caribbean’s urgent climate call article https://constructioncaribbean.com/2017/09/26/the-caribbeans-urgent-climate-call/
Regarding local or regional examples of net zero or net low buildings. One Rubis Plaza in Welches, Barbados as described in the article below was built with energy efficiency as a top consideration, with an energy efficient air-conditioning system, solar PV both on the roof and on a large carport and a rainwater capture technology that is used in irrigation. This results in lower energy costs and environmental impact and a great local example of a net low building, which can hopefully raise the status quo of buildings within the Caribbean.
Regarding residential net-zero buildings, take a look at Deltec Homes, a construction company based in North Carolina. Deltec Homes builds sustainable, energy efficient, hurricane resistant houses, which in fact are net zero. Innovative concepts such as this need to be considered in both residential and commercial construction within the Caribbean as we build for the future.