BuildingsChart-Pembina
Credit: Pembina Institute

It's easier to reduce energy emissions from buildings than from transportation. Here's how

Both the federal and provincial governments have committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions: Canada by 30 per cent by 2030, and B.C. by 80 per cent by 2050.

According to an analysis released on Monday by the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions, Pembina Institute and Clean Energy Canada, unless something changes, these goals are unrealistic: the combined carbon pollution from LNG and natural gas, industry and utilities, transport and buildings will increase until 2030 and remain above current levels until at least 2050.

Of those pollution sources, one of the easiest to address is buildings. B.C.’s approximately one million buildings account for 11 per cent of the provinces’s total emissions. It will be hard to make all transportation low carbon, says Pembina Institute senior advisor Tom-Pierre Frappé-Sénéclauze, so buildings, which are easier to decarbonize because they can be connected to electricity, should exceed targets. How to achieve that was the topic of a forum in Vancouver on November 28: Pathways to Net-Zero Buildings, involving 120 architects, builders, developers, suppliers and property managers plus officials from the federal, provincial and local governments.

The province’s Climate Leadership Plan includes policies to encourage the development of net zero buildings, also known as passive houses: so well-insulated that they require little additional heat apart from what’s given off by applicances. About a third of the buildings that will be standing in 2030 have not been built yet, says Frappé-Sénéclauze, but in addition to requiring new construction to be low energy, about three per cent of existing buildings would have to be retrofitted each year: 2,500 homes per month, 800 multi-unit residential buildings per year and about three million square metres of commercial and institutional buildings per year. And two out of three of those would have to switch to another low carbon source, which for most of B.C. would be electricity.

The forum came up with two ways to make it simpler: a single point of contact to find out about contracting services and government incentives plus an easy way to finance upgrades through a local improvement charge or property assessed clean energy (PACE) program, in which a loan is paid back through property taxes instead of a mortgage or personal loan. If the property is sold, the next owner takes over the payments.

 “This is a huge economic opportunity,” says Frappé-Sénéclauze. “It’s going to be like it’s an entire renewal of our building stock, so that’s going to create lots of employment for a lot of time.”