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Towards net-zero buildings: a quantitative study

Schneider Electric
Schneider Electric • 6 min read
Towards net-zero buildings: a quantitative study
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It is our responsibility, as a large organization, to make a positive impact by reducing our energy consumption and CO2 emissions and contributing to societal progress while being profitable.

At Schneider Electric we have set ambitious targets with our 2021–2025 Schneider Sustainability Impact (SSI), in line with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals; our technologies reconcile growth, access to energy for all, and a carbon-free future for our planet. Our climate commitments aim to minimize carbon emissions for both our customers and our own company. For Schneider, this means the neutrality of our business ecosystem by 2025, net-zero carbons from our operations by 2030, and net-zero carbon of our end-to-end supply chain by 2050.

With pioneering technology and end-to-end solutions for sustainability, we’ve been building momentum.

The Schneider Electric™ Sustainability Research Institute examines the issues at hand and considers how the business community, as well as societies and government, can and should act. We seek to make sense of current trends and what must happen to maintain momentum and preview the changes that we believe are yet to come.

In this study, we propose a new and innovative approach to the decarbonization of the building sector. Taking stock of the potential of modern technologies now available, we find that their combination offers two-thirds (or above) carbon abatement opportunity by 2030 while generating massive savings on annual energy spend for building dwellers (up to 70%), a positive equation which is, we argue, the only practical route to rapid and successful decarbonization of the building sector. New constructions and service building retrofits are prime targets for rapid development while residential retrofits will require more policy focus and business innovation (notably for low-income households)

Buildings represent globally around 30% of total CO2 emissions today (excluding embodied emissions). 60% of those emissions stem from residential buildings, the rest from service buildings. Buildings are a very fragmented sector, and all attempts to modernize it have often been prey to skepticism. Yet, the entire building stock must reach net zero by 2050 for the world to be on a path consistent with a global warming trajectory compatible with the 2015 Paris Agreement.

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Solutions are well known, and technologies are ready, they involve energy efficiency measures and the deployment of decarbonized heating technologies (notably electric). More modern solutions have also recently emerged, among which are active energy efficiency (enabled by digital controls), smart electric heat pumps, and onsite solar (and storage). Many of these solutions have been studied already. While there is a relative consensus globally on what needs to be done, the general line of thought is that it will come at an extra cost for dwellers, which represents a significant political burden. Hence the slow pace at which this massive transformation materializes.

One of the reasons for this conclusion is that these solutions have often been studied in isolation. The reality, however, is that benefits are magnified when they are bundled together:

Heat electrification becomes more economically compelling when relying on zero-marginal cost electricity from distributed photovoltaic installations while enabling greater use of those.

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Active energy efficiency brings about more efficient use of heating and helps optimize (and maximize) the use of onsite solar.

At the same time, active energy efficiency, and digital controls enable more flexible load management, optimizing the economic equation while providing flexible support to the infrastructure, another key burden of this massive transition.

The building sector is in a decarbonization deadlock and change remains too slow. Yet, the solutions exist to break this deadlock and rapidly accelerate the decarbonization of the stock, at a pace and at a scale which is probably overlooked. For that to happen, however, will require the embracing of modern solutions and innovative approaches.

Today’s problems will not be solved with yesterday’s solutions.

To achieve the sustainability goals set out by hundreds of global organizations, bold steps are required to reduce emissions and operate more sustainably. Join us in exploring compelling predictions and conclusions in the areas of energy management, digital innovation, climate action, goalsetting and confidence, and fresh financing mechanisms.

It is time to embrace sustainability as a business imperative and to capture the momentum now, and for the future.

Schneider Electric’s Sustainability Institute

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Schneider Electric’s purpose is to empower all to make the most of our energy and resources, bridging progress and sustainability for all. At Schneider, we call it Life Is On. Schneider Electric’s mission is to be the digital partner for Sustainability and Efficiency. The company provides energy and automation digital solutions with cutting-edge technologies and services in homes, buildings, data centres, infrastructure, and industries.

Sustainability is core to our mission and our approach is underpinned by the triple bottom line of people, planet, and prosperity. We actively research and advocate for the future of energy, industry, cities, transportation, globalization, and the digital economy. In 2021, we formally launched the Schneider Electric™ Sustainability Research Institute to engage global society toward accelerating the energy transition, decarbonization, and sustainability in line with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

The Schneider Electric Sustainability Research Institute values collaborative research across all stakeholders. We seek synergies to advance sustainability pathways, policy recommendations, knowledge, and leadership from local to global levels. To date, our body of work includes collaborations with numerous academics, national laboratories, NGOs, and industry coalitions.

In 2021, we published a study on global decarbonization scenarios. These scenarios demonstrate tangible pathways to achieve a global warming trajectory compatible with the Paris climate goals. This report exemplifies our approach: departing from more conventional scenarios that focus on infrastructure developments (supply-side driven transitions), it centres around consumers and business transformations (demand-side driven transitions) and explores which pathways are more likely to trigger rapid adoption.

Based on these results, we put forward that there is no needed arbitrage between human progress and climate change mitigation. In fact, we argue, there will be no climate change mitigation if it does not build on human progress. With insights on how global demand can alter tangible routes toward global sustainability, our 2022 priority areas include key transformations and sustainability pathways for the built environment, several carbon-intensive industrial sectors, corresponding infrastructure impacts, and evaluation of social and environmental factors for corporations. For access to our research, please visit our website.

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