Alberta has done great work on the climate file. Phasing out coal, cleaning up the emissions profile of the oil sands and a carbon tax are all the right things to do.
But there is a big chunk of the emissions pie that hasn't been addressed yet. Buildings. Our built environment accounts for around 12 per cent of Canada's greenhouse gas emissions.
Greening the building sector is one of the most cost-effective and economically beneficial ways to reduce energy demand and emissions while also supporting climate adaptation and resilience. These solutions exist and can be put into action right now. It's also a solid way to get a moribund economy moving.
Everyone needs a roof over their head, and given the heating demand from our cold climate and how much time we spend indoors we should be experts at building healthy, energy efficient buildings.
These 10 tips come from the incredible professionals at Manasc Isaac, one of Alberta's leaders and champions when it comes to green buildings.
The research shows that you are more inclined to reduce energy and water consumption when consumption is made visible. Signage, real-time information and yearly disclosures of real energy can raise awareness and inspire a change in behaviour.
As Carl Elefante said, "The greenest building is the one already built." Instead of demolishing buildings, we need to incentivize and encourage owners to retrofit and re-imagine them. There are vast amounts of embodied energy in a finished building, and we need to acknowledge that and protect our architectural and historical legacy. Alberta Infrastructure can lead the way by retrofitting and re-imagining their own buildings.
Centre for Green Building Innovation
Bring together postsecondary institutions, construction, engineering and architecture companies, and the Alberta chapter of the Canada Green Building Council to work with Alberta Infrastructure and other departments to establish a hub where green building products, processes and technologies can be tested and showcased.
LEED By Example
The province of Alberta needs to invest in green design and construction of all the projects that they fund. That includes schools, postsecondary institutions, health facilities, seniors housing and other public facilities. These are long-term public investments. We can't afford not to build healthy, energy-efficient buildings. A LEED Gold minimum for public buildings is a nice place to start.
Green Building Education
Let's integrate basic green building concepts into K-12 education. The Alberta curriculum could address design thinking, energy use, water conservation, the effects of building design on health and a bunch of related topics.
We need to update our building code so we can use grey water to flush our toilets in commercial and institutional buildings. It's a cheap and easy way to reduce fresh water consumption and energy use and there are other Canadian provinces that already allow it.
Alberta Infrastructure leases an enormous amount of office and other space across the province. The provincial government needs to demand a LEED Gold minimum for buildings that it leases. This will encourage building owners to improve the energy performance and indoor environmental health of existing buildings.
More distributed generation and micro-generation
There are a few ways to incent more solar and combined heat and power systems in our buildings.
A value-of-solar tariff: Solar on buildings actually helps the grid by reducing demand during the day when demand is high and by obviating the need for future transmission and distribution investments. Compensate solar PV system owners for this value. Austin, Texas and Minnesota both have value-of-solar tariffs.
Re-jig the micro-generation regulation: Get rid of the need to tie the size of the system to energy use on systems under 30 kilowatts in size. Simultaneously we should also get rid of the one-megawatt cap on micro-gen projects. If you're a big energy user and have the demand, build as big a system behind the meter that you can.
The province buys a lot of building materials. We need to mandate in our procurement processes that we are actually purchasing materials that reduce our carbon footprint and ensure occupant health.
A Provincial Reuse Centre
When commercial and industrial buildings are deconstructed there is no practical way for the materials to be removed, stored, inventoried and reused. A provincially run Reuse Centre would make it easy for architects and engineers to specify and procure salvaged materials for their projects. Picture a thriving and efficient hub for reclaimed materials.
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