Energy management. Utility optimization. Sustainability. Environmental stewardship. Green operations. Net Zero Energy. Carbon neutrality. These topics have been integrated into facilities management operations for more than 40 years, starting during the energy crisis of the 1970s. Facilities professionals should have a solid understanding of the context and outcomes of these topics, but most of the definitions (the “what”) and execution strategies (the “how to”) vary as widely as opinions on the reasons institutions and organizations need to conserve natural resources (the “why”). Reaching a universal consensus on the “why” is an unrealistic expectation in this author’s opinion. However, the world (governments, corporations, influential environmental stakeholders) appears to be reaching a singular focus on environmental stewardship, and it has a universal title—decarbonization.
What is Decarbonization?
Due to the relative newness of the term “decarbonization,” it’s not surprising if this is the first time you have read or heard of it. So, what is decarbonization? It is the atmospheric elimination of any human-produced carbon dioxide (CO2) from materials, products, and processes. The understood goal of CO2 elimination is slowing and eventually reversing the increased CO2 concentration in the earth’s atmosphere, which has occurred as the result of human industrialization and geometric world population growth. Decarbonization can be achieved by direct elimination, or by offset of human-generated CO2 through long-term or permanent sequestration (capture, securing, and storage) of CO2 from the atmosphere. The concept is easy to understand, but the “how” of macro and micro cost-effective decarbonization is the ultimate challenge.
Energy Codes and Decarbonization
Building energy codes have been and will increasingly be the primary mechanism for building decarbonization. The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) Standard 90.1 has been the de facto energy code in the United States and most of Canada since the late 1970s. The International Code Council (ICC) also produces the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), which until recently has been compatible with and complementary to ASHRAE Standard 90.1. The IECC is currently in a significant revision process, which will be the subject of a future Code Talkers article when it is published.
These building codes to date have not produced new buildings that are fully decarbonized. Facilities professionals should anticipate more aggressive revisions to these codes in response to prolific and aggressive governance and cultural expectations for short-term decarbonization. To measure and track the efficacy of these building codes, ASHRAE is developing a new standard that was recently published for the second public-review draft. It’s currently a “proposed” standard: “228P, Standard Method for Evaluating Zero Net Energy and Zero Net Carbon Building Performance”—a very long name. A recommended revised title is “Standard Method for Evaluating Building Decarbonization.” This standard is expected to be the decarbonization “measuring stick” for new and existing buildings. To manage any desired or expected outcomes, efficacy and performance must be measured. We anticipate that once the standard is implemented, the decarbonization performance data will show that all facilities, new and old, are far from being decarbonized. Nevertheless, facilities management professionals can leverage this data to define the short-term and long-term strategic roadmap for building and campus decarbonization.
A New Vision for Facilities
Several campuses and corporations have developed very aggressive strategic plans for decarbonization, setting a target date as early as 2030 for full facilities decarbonization with respect to fossil fuel–based energy consumption. However, 2030 is an unrealistic date for large buildings and campuses with large central utilities plants, considering current technology, infrastructure limitations, and financial challenges. Technology advances and economics will eventually provide the means for replacing large heating and cooling central plants with true decarbonized utilities. But facilities leaders need to shape their vision now and plan for a longer time scale to address decarbonization of larger buildings and campuses. How long? That’s the real challenge—possibly 20–30 years.
The final point of this brief article is that whether or not you develop a strategic plan for decarbonization, the future will still arrive at your doorstep. With planning, you can progress to a desired outcome. Without planning, you will stay exactly where you are, and you will be left behind by others moving forward.
David Handwork is chief of engineering at United Commercial Energy Partners in Frisco, TX. He can be reached at email@example.com.