The future of sustainable architecture: net zero-energy buildings

09/03/2021

The future of sustainable architecture: net zero-energy buildings

Sustainability has become a cornerstone of every sector, and architecture and building are no exceptions. Have you ever considered the environmental impact of the buildings in which we spend most of our time? To give you an idea, buildings represent 40% of all energy consumption in the European Union, so it is important to promote buildings that meet the guidelines established by the sustainability certification bodies. But the real goal is to achieve buildings that are so sustainable and eco-friendly that they produce zero emissions: in other words, “net zero-energy buildings” or NZEB.

What are net zero-energy buildings?

The term NZEB (“nearly zero-energy building” or “net zero-energy building”) refers to buildings that produce most of their energy through renewable energies and only consume as much energy as can be produced on site. The goal is therefore to construct buildings that meet very high energy efficiency levels with practically zero consumption. 

We haven't achieved that goal yet, but we are getting closer and closer. According to the annual Energy Efficiency Indicator survey published by Johnson Controls, 70% of organisations are very likely to have one or more facilities that are nearly zero-energy in the next ten years, an increase of 7% on 2019.

How do they work and what are their features?

Thanks to technological advances in construction, renewable energy systems and academic research, net zero-energy buildings are on the verge of becoming a reality.

One of the fundamental criteria is to create an efficient building design right from the start, thereby reducing energy consumption to a minimum through the architecture itself. This requires the use of advanced energy analysis tools and design equipment to optimise the architecture and the efficient technologies used. Some of the most important features of efficient design are the emphasis on natural light and ventilation, passive solar heating, solar control and water treatment and reuse on site.

Once efficiency measures have been built into the design, the remaining energy needs can be met by using renewable energy technologies. One of these technologies is renewable thermal energy obtained from wood, agricultural waste and similar products that can be burned to generate heat. Other examples are solar water heating systems, wind turbines and photovoltaic energy.

A good example of the use of these developments is the Unisphere building, the new headquarters of the company United Therapeutics. This construction has a central system that coordinates all the air conditioning and heating activities, and windows that automatically darken when the temperature rises to maintain a cool environment inside the building.

Here at Colonial we are firmly committed to sustainability certification and 92% of our portfolio of assets currently have a BREEAM or LEED energy certificate. Meanwhile, we continue to innovate and implement new technologies to achieve our own zero-energy buildings.

What challenges will sustainable architecture face next? We’ll keep you informed in our blog and social media profiles.

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