When I first founded NetZero Buildings in 2011, we were predominantly looking to introduce energy conservation methods. Now, we like to think of ourselves as a construction technology company, which transforms the speed, cost and environmental impact of new buildings through our pioneering off-site manufacturing method…
Driving the need for energy efficiency
Climate change is the genesis and main driver of NetZero Buildings. You might think global warming is a slow process which has occurred gradually over hundreds of years – but, actually, it has happened much more recently than people imagine. And without urgent action, the problem will rapidly get worse.
Every 24 hours, we are collectively dumping 110 million tons of manmade global warming pollution into the atmosphere. The single largest source of this pollution? Burning fossil fuels.
Most of these fossil fuels are burnt through the built environment, with approximately 45% of CO2 emissions being generated by buildings. In the UK alone, heating and lighting our homes come at a massive cost to the planet, producing a staggering 64 million tons of pollution every year – while UK schools contribute 1 million tons a year to the total! These figures clearly highlight the need to build responsibly and more sustainably.
Fortunately, the government is now starting to take climate change seriously and show stronger signs of leadership in this area, introducing plans to reduce emissions to net zero by 2050.
Although some have cast doubts about how this target will be achieved, the transition will not be nearly as expensive or painful as we have been led to believe. In fact, far from having to completely overhaul our entire way of living, I believe the secret to building a brighter and more sustainable future lies in harnessing the power of technology.
In recent years, product technologies such as photovoltaics have become more affordable. For example, the cost of crystalline silicon solar cells has declined rapidly from $79.40/watt in 1976 to $0.33/watt now, while battery costs have dropped from £1,160 per kWh in 2010 to £176 per kWh.
Together with software such as Building Information Modelling and automated manufacturing tools, these technologies can help us work towards the net-zero target by delivering energy-positive buildings. With these technologies, I am adamant there is no reason not to be electric – and developers need never construct a building that relies on fossil fuels again.
In the future, I predict we will see substantial changes to the current energy grid, which is centralised, unsightly, wasteful, carbon emitting and maintenance heavy. This monumentally inefficient, broken model will likely take 30 to 40 years to change but the shift to a decentralised, decarbonised, democratised and digitised ‘Grid 2.0’ will be most welcome.
For Grid 2.0, the sun will serve as the primary source of power generation. Every hour, enough solar energy reaches the Earth to meet the entire world’s energy needs for a whole year – which begs the question, why haven’t we turned to solar sooner?
As the world shifts away from the grid as we know it, buildings will no longer need to be connected to an energy network and all new buildings will be electric and energy positive. Energy will flow between buildings via Distributed Energy Resources such as electric vehicles, and any excess energy can then be stored in integrated batteries for diurnal use.
The NetZero house
Following NetZero’s success with developing radically efficient school buildings, we have now turned our attention to housing – seeking to create homes that are affordable to live in and which generate more energy than they use.
Working in partnership with Public Sector Plc, we started building two prototype houses in January. Despite being modular, these houses look totally indiscernible from traditional, on-site builds – with solar panels and other technology being integrated sensitively as part of the roof or walls so as to maintain the familiar aesthetic. Modelling data from the prototype house indicates the building will generate 3,000 kWh per year, while only consuming 2,800 kWh – meaning energy generation will essentially become free.
It’s a no brainer really: if you’re building new schools or houses, why wouldn’t you want to invest in and adopt a future-proof strategy?
To find out more about how we’re working to build a brighter future, please don’t hesitate to get in touch today.