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Radical transformation in built environment is possible by 2050

by Mark Sabourin
EcoLog, 5/31/2019 2:02:00 PM

A joint report by the National Energy Board (NEB) and the International Energy Agency (IEA) says that carbon emissions from Canadian buildings could be 80% lower by 2050. The joint NEB-IEA report draws upon known technology to explore the impact of reducing Canada’s building carbon footprint over the next 30 years. It was released on May 27, 2019, a day before an advisory body explored actions that could be taken exclusively under federal jurisdiction to reduce the carbon footprint of Canada’s built environment.

The joint NEB-IEA report paints a picture of what the built environment could look like in 2050 with widespread adoption of clean technology solutions. The Advisory Council on Climate Action’s report, released on May 28, 2019, is more modest in scope. It discusses what the federal government can do within its jurisdiction.

Jurisdictionally, it appears the federal government can do little more than encourage and serve as an example, according to the Advisory Council on Climate Action. It can “prime the retrofit market” by promoting best practices and demonstrating their effectiveness by implementing them across its vast real estate portfolio. This could include the disclosure of the energy performance of all federal buildings. The Advisory Council on Climate Action’s report reminds readers that development of a building energy labelling program was part of the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change.

The federal government could also leverage its taxation powers. The Advisory Council on Climate Action’s report says the United States uses an accelerated capital cost allowance to deliver tax benefits for buildings that achieve performance-based outcomes from energy savings. A similar measure could be introduced here.

The joint NEB-IEA report says that total energy demand in Canada’s buildings could fall by more than 35% by 2050 relative to 2018, even with floor area expected to grow by as much as 40%. This could happen without reducing the level of energy services. High-performance new construction (e.g., near-zero energy buildings) and deep energy renovations of existing buildings would play a role. These are both technologies and practices available in the market today.

Governments would have to play an active role. Economic considerations alone won’t be enough. The joint NEB-IEA report says that even now, many buildings do not undergo energy retrofits and upgrades even when they are cost-effective.

Come 2050, nearly 45% of Canada’s heating equipment stock could be high-performance electric heat pumps. Fossil fuel’s share of the heating load would fall to about 30%, virtually all of which would be natural gas.

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