The Canada Green Building Council (CaGBC) has announced the first building certified under their new Zero Carbon standard, an office building in Waterloo, Ontario built by the Cora Group and designed by Stantec. Waterloo is a hotbed of technology startups (it is where the Blackberry came from) and continues to thrive. The 110,000 square foot building is "designed for today’s millennial tech-savvy workforce" and is steps from a new light rail line. It has a high-performance building envelope, a "Geo-exchange / variable refrigerant flow (VRF) HVAC system", triple glazing and a solar wall for preheated ventilation along with 700kw of photovoltaics. Adrian Conrad, CEO of Cora, says:
“First and foremost, we want to make a difference. When we heard about the CaGBC Zero Carbon Building certification, we saw a tremendous opportunity to measure our efforts against a progressive new building standard and to pilot our project within a program that is capturing attention from across the country and indeed, around the world.”
It's the zero carbon certification that is the real news here. The CaGBC standard was introduced in May, 2017 and is an interesting model. Their definition:
A zero carbon building is defined as one that is highly energy-efficient and produces onsite, or procures, carbon-free renewable energy in an amount sufficient to offset the annual carbon emissions associated with operations.
There are a couple of important features of this certification. They have a limit to energy consumption, a maximum Thermal Energy Demand Intensity (TEDI) of how much can be consumed per square meter for heating, cooling and ventilation that must be considered as well as carbon balance. You can't just keep adding panels or buying green power until you are Net Zero but have to build a decent building in the first place.
The inclusion of a specific TEDI target results in greater occupant comfort and ensures that building designers focus on minimizing a building’s demand for energy prior to producing or procuring renewable energy. The target also helps to ensure long-term energy performance, as building envelopes have long life spans and yield very reliable efficiency gains.
The building then has to achieve a zero carbon balance. "To achieve that balance, GHG emissions associated with building operations must be offset using low-carbon renewable energy, either produced onsite or procured from offsite through a contractual arrangement."
I am not usually crazy about offsite contractual arrangements; I have them for my own house from Bullfrog Power and my house is a leaky old barn. But paired with the TEDI targets that limit consumption, it is a reasonable option. Some onsite renewable energy source is required, although less than I would have thought:
While the zero carbon balance can be achieved using either onsite or offsite sources of renewable energy, ZCB-Design certification requires that at least five percent of the building’s total energy consumption be met using renewable energy that is generated onsite.
The standard also requires reporting, but not compliance with a standard, for energy use intensity (EUI, a building’s total operational energy use, including all heating, cooling, ventilation, lighting, plug, and process loads.) They also want to know peak demand, to help determine stress on the grid, and (YAY!) Embodied Carbon.
...there is a growing awareness of the importance of addressing the embodied carbon and other GHG emissions associated with building materials. Emissions associated with the manufacturing, transport, and installation of building components currently represent a relatively low proportion of an average building’s total carbon footprint, but these emissions grow in importance as operational emissions are reduced.
Fans of the Passive House standard will find the energy limits to be pretty lame, and the fact that the total operational energy use has no limit is an issue, but this is a spec office building that might well be chock full of computers mining bitcoins for all we know, so it's hard to know where to set that but it is important to measure.
I will also complain that the parking ratio, one parking space for every 250 square feet of office space, is nuts (though probably a municipal requirement) and that they should have to measure the Transportation Energy Intensity and know how much carbon all their employees are contributing by driving to work. This is in a suburban office park and it will be a lot. Hey, if you are measuring total operating energy use, why not measure this too, it is useful information.
But there is a lot to like about this standard. They call it net zero carbon and not net zero energy, because fundamentally, carbon is our problem. They are using it to gather information, such as embodied energy and total energy use, that will be useful as the standard develops. It's not so tough that it can't be used for a speculative office building. I have complained in the past about the proliferation of different standards, but CaGBC is a national organization, the Canadian equivalent of the USGBC that runs LEED, so it could become the de facto national standard.
This is no Bullit Center or Powerhouse Kjørbo; but like both of those, it is the first of a new standard, one that is achievable in a speculative market and that may provide the developer with a real marketing advantage; as CEO Conrad says, “We envision a day where zero carbon building design will be on the top of a tenant’s wish list when searching for office space.”