Ionut Farcas, Ionut Farcas, senior vice president, Europe & International Hub, Power Products Division at Schneider Electric, looks at retrofitting the buildings and homes of the future.

Buildings today are responsible for 39% of all global CO2 emissions. 28% of this is attributed to energy consumption, and the additional 11% associated with materials and construction. It’s scary, but true.

In the EU, buildings contribute to 35% of greenhouse gas emissions. But with many countries in Europe like France suffering from a housing crisis, people aren’t building new homes because of the rise in construction costs and scarcity of land. Buildings’ impact on global warming is triggering a vicious cycle. With 80% of the building stock today likely to exist in 2050, it’s no wonder that retrofitting both commercial and residential environments has become a huge focus point in the energy sector. Retrofitting existing buildings can reduce their life-cycle carbon emissions by up to 83%. This is backed by the European Commission, which has called for deep renovations in 3% of buildings annually by 2030.

While retrofitting for sustainability grows increasingly urgent, there are different challenges homeowners and building managers face when embarking on retrofit projects. So, let’s explore some of the challenges and solutions in retrofitting the buildings and homes of the future.

Protecting life and safety when retrofitting commercial buildings

After over a century of unchanging energy distribution, the energy sector is undergoing its biggest-ever transformation. Alongside the clean energy transition, energy shortages resulting from geopolitical conflicts mean there is now a push to make grids more resilient by sustainably re-shoring production and consumption. Building owners now need to bake this transition into their existing retrofits. So, where should they start?

Research by Schneider Electric and design firm WSP has found that when retrofitting and undertaking Energy Conservation Measures (ECMs), while “full envelope retrofits and building systems upgrades are necessary to achieve full building decarbonisation, updating an old building management system (BMS) is the most effective first step.”

When it comes to protecting lives, property, and the planet, it’s still important to carefully adhere to safety standards and regulations, as some retrofit projects have even been shown to negatively affect indoor air quality.

Before initiating commercial building retrofit projects, it is crucial to conduct thorough risk assessments and identify vulnerabilities. In this respect, selecting reliable and certified equipment meeting future safety standards is paramount. Integrating digitalisation into the management of the building is an effective strategy to help managers to measure the effectiveness of any changes, and make further improvements as a result as well as being able to cut carbon emissions up to 70%. Building managers also need to consider things like capacity planning, compliance with retrofit regulations, and ongoing maintenance and monitoring with the help of technologies.

Balancing costs and benefits for home retrofitting projects

For residents, the decision to retrofit their homes is a matter of weighing up the benefits and costs. But this decision plays a significant role in our progress toward net-zero goals. In the UK, one million houses would need to be retrofitted each year for the next thirty years for the country to meet net zero by 2050.

The energy crisis last year was a catalyst for the adoption of energy efficient solutions, as residents and homeowners were looking for any means to cut energy costs. Managing energy demand is also the fastest way to decarbonise, and unlike commercial buildings, the decision to make home improvements is in the hands of individual residents and landlords.

The biggest hurdle stopping more people from taking the next step is likely the financial investment. It can be hard to justify the time, effort, and money, needed to embark on large scale home retrofitting like heat pumps and solar panels. But it’s crucial for people to first have access to data so they know how much energy they use, and what consumes the most energy. Only then can they make an informed decision about if, where, and how much they’re willing to invest.

Embracing technological innovations

Having access to data from energy management solutions can help counter a lot of the complexities when planning home retrofitting projects. It can show you which areas of your home need to be addressed, and that you don’t always need to invest in expensive, large-scale projects to make a difference. Once the retrofitting is completed, these systems will also allow you to monitor and track progress, proving the value of the investment.

More widely speaking, adopting cutting-edge technologies can significantly improve safety practices across the energy sector. Automation, artificial intelligence, and IoT-enabled monitoring systems allow for real-time data analysis, predictive maintenance, and early detection of potential safety issues. These innovations empower companies to address safety concerns and as well as monitoring building occupancy rates to regulate temperatures, turn off lights when not in use, and much more - all designed to optimise energy use. Studies show that digital solutions can reduce 20% of global emissions while electricity is reported to be the best vector for decarbonisation. This should not be overlooked when we consider that by 2030 there will be triple the number of IoT devices in buildings as in 2020.

Walking the path to net-zero through sustainable retrofits

Ultimately, the decarbonisation mandate is real and thanks to industry advancements, energy efficiency improvements are becoming increasingly practical and affordable. Buildings are like our bodies, they are subject to a changing environment, as well as internal degradation and change overtime. We need to ensure they are running as efficiently as possible, and this means making improvements through retrofitting. The technology and tools are available today. So, now is the time to take action.