The Net Zero Carbon Roadmap for Commercial Buildings

June 2024

Amidst global efforts towards decarbonisation and lower carbon emissions, achieving net zero emissions in commercial buildings has been a growing priority.

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With the building sector and its value chain being responsible for almost 40% of total global energy-related carbon emissions, having energy-efficient and net zero buildings is a critical piece of the puzzle in combating climate change.

The journey to net zero commercial buildings involves a comprehensive approach. Offices with 4-pipe fan coil units or chilled beams are best poised for delivering maximum efficiency. The UK’s Green Building Council has set some interim energy performance targets for air-conditioned buildings targeting net zero carbon, highlighting the level of energy reductions needed to achieve net zero by 2050.

Interim Targets

  • UKGBC Paris Proof 2025: 90 kWh/sqm/year
  • UKGBC Paris Proof 2030: 70 kWh/sqm/year
  • UKGBC Paris Proof 2035: 55 kWh/sqm/year
  • UKGBC Paris Proof 2050: 35 kWh/sqm/year

At Symphony Energy, we recommend a four-step roadmap to decarbonisation for commercial real estate, with each step building on the previous to create a sustainable and highly efficient net-zero office building. 

Step 1: Focus on Efficiency First

In the EU’s Energy Efficiency Directive 2023/1791, the Commission emphasises the importance of first optimising energy use to achieve the EU’s target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 55%. The directive also looks closely at the energy efficiency of buildings and these principles can be applied to all buildings. 

  1. Deploy HVAC Heat Recycling (Symphony Cycle): Symphony Cycle is a patented heat recycling process that seamlessly integrates with existing HVAC systems to repurpose its cooling system. This process generates free cooling and heating, unlocking significant energy savings. By recycling heat within the building, the Symphony Cycle process reduces the need for external energy inputs and creates a cyclical saving effect in your HVAC plant, enhancing overall efficiency.
  1. Identify and Fix Cooling Load Imbalances: Symphony Cycle also helps identify cooling load imbalances, a common issue that can lead to inefficiencies and increased energy consumption. By addressing these imbalances, buildings can ensure that their HVAC systems operate optimally and efficiently. 
  1. Deploy Smart Optimisation: Utilising Symphony’s comprehensive smart retrofit solution can lead to energy savings of up to 80%. Smart Optimisation involves using advanced technologies and our suite of expertise to monitor, automatically control, and adjust energy use. This Smart Optimisation is also tailored specifically to your building and its unique requirements. For newer buildings (less than 10 years old), this alone can help achieve Paris Proof 2035 or even 2050 efficiency levels, ensuring they meet future standards without the need for significant structural changes.

By maximising energy efficiency from the outset, buildings can reduce their energy demand significantly, making subsequent decarbonisation steps more manageable and cost-effective.

Step 2: HVAC Plant Enhancements

This step is needed for older buildings whose HVAC plant has fixed rather than variable output control. The likely enhancements include variable temperature heating and cooling generation, maximised AHU heat recovery mechanisms and speed controls on pumps and fans. The BMS may also need enhancement so it can communicate over BACnet.

The building is ready for a deep HVAC optimisation once these variable output controls are in place.

Step 3: Heat Electrification

Heat electrification involves replacing or augmenting heating systems with electric heat pumps. This step is usually only implemented in buildings that do not have heat pumps. 

Heat electrification is a critical step in the decarbonisation process because it directly addresses one of the largest sources of emissions in commercial buildings: heating. By transitioning to electric heat pumps, buildings can take advantage of increasingly renewable electricity grids, further reducing their carbon footprint.

Step 4: Fabric Upgrade

The final step involves upgrading the building fabric, although this is typically less critical for buildings under 15 years old. Fabric upgrades typically involve improving insulation, ensuring airtightness, minimising or eliminating thermal bridging and replacing windows and doors to reduce heat loss. For many commercial buildings, this amounts to a replacement of the building facade and major roof works. These measures can further reduce energy demand and improve indoor comfort, but they represent a significant investment. 

However, many older buildings may not need an expensive fabric upgrade immediately after implementing the first three steps. By timing these upgrades appropriately with fabric upgrades planned closer to 2050 if needed, building owners can spread out costs and ensure that each step of the decarbonisation process is financially viable.

Symphony’s Roadmap to Net Zero

At Symphony, our roadmap to net zero for commercial buildings involves a strategic, step-by-step approach that maintains compliance with the interim targets while deferring or eliminating the need for expensive fabric upgrades. For many buildings under 10-years old, at relatively low cost, Symphony can bring them to their Net Zero/Paris Proof 2050 targets today, decades ahead of schedule. 

Want to learn how Symphony can help your building improve its energy efficiency and cost efficiently stay abreast of compliance with Paris Proof targets?

Get in touch to schedule a demo today.

Written By:

JP Johnson