It might sound too good to be true but there’s a way to fast track the transition of your portfolio to net zero, use more energy and fewer offsets. See how one company, Buildings Alive, is working with global industry leaders to achieve this.

Property portfolio owners might be able to get to net zero and at the same time use more energy than ever before.

The secret? Active energy management, says Buildings Alive chief executive officer Craig Roussac. This method rejigs the typical net zero pathway – improve building energy efficiency, invest in renewable energy and then offset the rest – by matching energy use with times of peak renewable generation.

Because many buildings “run when the sun shines”, Roussac explains, it’s possible to coordinate energy use with times of day when there’s a glut of solar and wind energy in the grid.

The cleaner the grid, the lower the emissions – and the lower the wholesale price. In South Australia, for example, there is such high renewables penetration that for the first three months of 2021 the average daytime wholesale price of electricity was below zero.

Buildings that match energy use to these times can enjoy mostly free, zero emissions energy, Roussac explains.

Matching energy use with renewable generation needn’t sacrifice occupant comfort.

In an office building, for example, facilities managers might use the opportunity when the sun is at its peak in the middle of the day to crank the HVAC system and flood each floor with 100 per cent freshly ventilated air from outdoors.

His company has spent many years developing the sophisticated predictive software that makes active energy management possible.

Buildings Alive can track the composition of the electricity supply mix for the locations of its clients’ buildings to calculate real-time emission factors. It is also able to predict the composition of electricity supply forecasts, and hence the emissions intensity of supplies well ahead of time.

Coupled with Buildings Alive’s ability to forecast a building’s (and portfolio’s) actual demand profile to the 15-minute interval up to a week in advance, this means building owners and operators can be informed exactly what their emissions profile is going to be like and respond accordingly.

Techs leading the way

Roussac says a few of the big global tech firms are leading the way with their sophisticated thinking on active energy management.

Load shifting is nothing new. It’s already used to capture value by keeping capacity charges in check through managing their peak demand.

“The thing is, ‘net zero’ businesses still drive carbon emissions because there are times they need to be using energy with carbon associated.”

To make up for this carbon, organisations use offsets. But these tech companies are shifting equipment loads to times when the grid is cleanest so they can run their operations from renewables around the clock and reduce the dependence on offsets.

As well as investing in new generation and storage infrastructure, a number of these leading companies are leveraging Buildings Alive software to help them more dynamically manage the energy they use in their office buildings and campuses.

Fast tracking net zero for everyone

At the moment, greenhouse gas emissions from buildings are calculated by multiplying energy use with annual average emissions factors (constants). These averaged figures don’t take into account the seasons nor the time of day and are blind to energy users shifting their loads to take advantage of surplus clean energy when it’s available.

Granted, without the help of sophisticated forecasting software that can accurately predict wind and solar generation in short increments, these annual averages were the best and only way to calculate the emissions profile of a building.

Not only do annual averaged GHG constants tend to overinflate individual commercial building contributions to climate change by around 10 per cent (on average), they also stymie progress to decarbonise the broader energy system.

Employing active energy management could open up cheaper, faster and potentially healthier routes to zero emissions than the traditional pathways enshrined in net zero strategies around the country.

That’s because when energy customers are actively managing their energy use in the pursuit of carbon neutrality, this funnels investment into renewable energy infrastructure that matches the true energy needs of users.

While active energy management used this way is “very new” and yet to filter into the mainstream environmental rating tools, Roussac expects it will happen quickly once a few major companies prove its value and technology catches up.

Manage emissions like company budgets

Employing active energy management could open up cheaper, faster and potentially healthier routes to zero emissions than the traditional pathways enshrined in net zero strategies around the country.

Roussac says this turns the net zero challenge on its head. Rather than relying on offsets, which are a “top down” down approach to net zero, building owners should treat the zero emissions challenge on an individual asset basis.

This “bottom up” approach is a lot like managing company budgets: by observing operating revenues and expenditures on an individual building level to inform decision making.

“You should do your carbon accounting the same way you do your accounting.”

This article has been written with the support of Buildings Alive