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Digital tech can cut building emissions by 70%
- October 3, 2023
- Steve Rogerson
Digital and electric technology can cut carbon emissions in office buildings by up to 70%, according to research from Schneider Electric.
The study quantifies the impact of technology upgrades on energy performance and carbon reduction in office buildings. The research found retrofitting buildings using a digital-first approach was the best pathway to decarbonisation.
Buildings represent an estimated 37% of global carbon emissions and, as about half of today’s buildings are still likely to be in use in 2050, the sector must urgently reduce operational carbon emissions by making buildings more energy efficient.
The research findings show that deploying digital building and power management technology in existing office buildings could reduce their operational carbon emissions by up to 42% with a payback period of less than three years. If fossil fuel-powered heating technologies are replaced with electric-powered alternatives, and a microgrid with local renewable energy sources is installed, all-electric, all-digital buildings will see an additional 28% reduction in operational carbon emissions resulting in a total reduction of up to 70%.
“Tackling operational emissions is the number-one lever to decarbonise existing buildings at scale and achieve net-zero emissions targets by 2050,” said Mike Kazmierczak, vice president at Schneider Electric (www.se.com). “This breakthrough research reveals that reducing carbon emissions by up to 70% is feasible if we transform our existing building stock into energy-efficient, fully-electrified and digitised assets.”
The research, carried out with design firm WSP, is based on modelling the energy performance and carbon emissions of a large office building built in the early 2000s across various US climate zones. This digital approach to building renovations is, however, applicable to all building types and climates, and is therefore the most effective building decarbonisation strategy, yielding fast results with lower upfront carbon.
Renovating through the deployment of digital technologies is not only less disruptive to daily operations, but also more effective from a lifecycle carbon perspective. Failing to decarbonise buildings rapidly could also result in stranded assets that lose value and are unattractive to both investors and tenants.
Furthermore, recent research from the Boston University Institute for Global Sustainability and the Schneider Electric Sustainability Research Institute estimates there is a sizable potential to create new jobs through the transition to low-carbon buildings.