Net-Zero Energy Building Achieves a Net-Positive Energy Status

Office buildings are generally inefficient in terms of energy use, and they contribute nearly a third of global greenhouse gas emissions from construction to decommissioning.

Net-Zero Energy Building Achieves a Net-Positive Energy Status

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A new study from the University of Waterloo examines data-driven advancements in Canada’s first zero-carbon, net-positive energy building, demonstrating how they play an important role in the building producing more energy than it consumes.

Scientists discovered that the net-positive building used more energy than anticipated in the first nine months of operation while the technicians still understood building systems in the first case study of its kind in Canada.

In 2019, the building failed to meet its promise of producing sufficient solar power for its operations as well as some for the community. However, by constantly monitoring and carrying out improvements, operations staff decreased the building’s energy consumption by about 15% while maintaining the comfort of those working in the space.

The case study demonstrates that all buildings can experience operational inefficiencies—including environmentally friendly models. Implementing data-driven improvements to finetune operations can help sustainably designed buildings achieve their promise to create clean energy for society.

Monika Mikhail, Lead Researcher and Graduate Student, School of Environment, Enterprise and Development, University of Waterloo

To resolve the performance gaps, operations staff advanced chosen equipment like pumps to disperse heat efficiently throughout the building. They also tested new improvements, like adjusting the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning schedules. Implementing a continuous improvement mindset paid off as the energy required to complete those tasks decreased. Now, the net-positive building is on track to meet its goal of producing 5% more clean energy than it consumes and supplying it to the Ontario grid by 2022.

We have the technology and tools to adapt to climate change, but they alone are not enough. Leveraging the experience and expertise of building operations professionals and data analysis are critical to ensuring sustainability targets are met.

Monika Mikhail, Lead Researcher and Graduate Student, School of Environment, Enterprise and Development, University of Waterloo

The scientists expect their findings to motivate other building owners to aim for net-positive energy rather than just meeting their energy quota (net-zero energy).

The surplus clean energy can offset the embedded carbon from construction and thus achieve zero-carbon performance, an essential step toward achieving our national carbon targets. This effort will require strong collaboration between many stakeholder groups, including designers, operators, and funding bodies.

Paul Parker, Professor, School of Environment, Enterprise and Development, University of Waterloo

Journal Reference:

Mikhail, M., et al. (2023) Net-positive office commissioning and performance gap assessment: Empirical insights. Energy and Buildings.

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