Canada’s greenhouse gas reduction targets in the buildings industry cannot be met unless the country’s existing commercial and public buildings are decarbonized by 2050. The buildings also need ongoing net zero operation, but the country is currently experiencing a 30% reduction in trained building operators post-pandemic.
The International Energy Agency, which monitors clean energy progress around the world, has described Canada’s building sector as “not on track” for reaching the 2050 climate targets.
In order to decarbonize Canada’s 482,000 existing commercial and public buildings, it needs to accelerate deep carbon retrofits. The Canada Green Building Council (CaGBC) in its Roadmap for Retrofits in Canada report, estimates large building retrofits could potentially reduce building sector emissions by 51% (21.2 million tonnes of CO2e).
Overall strategies include:
- Recommissioning to optimize existing buildings’ equipment and systems.
- Deep retrofits in 40% of buildings over 35 years old (which will soon require renewal activities), and of buildings heated using electric resistance systems in regions with carbon-intensive electricity grids (e.g., Alberta, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia).
- Switching to low carbon fuel sources (electrification) in 20% of buildings over 35 years old in all regions. In complex buildings (e.g., commercial and health care), this must occur as part of major building renewal.
- On-site renewable energy systems installations (e.g., solar) in 30% of buildings located in provinces with carbon-intensive electricity grids. Focusing on buildings with large roof-to-floor space ratios (such as retail, education and institutional buildings) will optimize energy gains in the Prairie and Atlantic regions.
According to an article in Construction Business magazine, the overwhelming majority of carbon emissions from buildings are directly linked to materials and construction. Mitigation strategies include the use of mass timber when adding to existing buildings, the use of low carbon concrete, and the use of XPS insulation.
Achieving ambitious decarbonization targets will require the construction industry to accelerate deep carbon retrofits on the existing building stock across Canada. Canada’s construction industry may need help to achieve this, and companies that offer services and/or products in this sector may find opportunities in the Canadian market.
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