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Reducing Carbon Emissions: Why You Need to Prepare to Manage Net Zero Buildings Projects

By Moataz Magdy | April 20, 2023

As the world grapples with the realities of climate change, governments are focusing on strategies to reduce carbon emissions.

In the Middle East, this reality is no exception. Temperatures are rising at twice the global average and are projected to increase as much as four degrees by 2050. In response, some countries – such as the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia – have implemented strategies to reduce carbon emissions and are committed to achieving specific net zero goals by 2050 and 2060 respectively.

One of the ways these countries plan to achieve these goals is through the construction of net zero buildings. The International Energy Agency (IEA) identified that building operations accounted for 30 percent of the world’s total energy consumption in 2021. As a result, it’s likely that the net zero standard will become a staple in the future of building construction. Even now, we’re seeing new project opportunities emerge as the number of net zero projects increases across the globe.

As a result, project managers will need to understand what a net zero building is and be prepared to help project owners achieve the net zero standard.

What is a net zero building?

A building is considered net zero if it meets two main criteria:

  1. It releases no net carbon emissions during its construction; and
  2. the building’s annual, operational energy needs are renewably generated on-site.

Achieving a net zero standard, however, is project specific. Depending on geographical factors – such as solar heat, wind intensity, humidity, precipitation, and location – the design and delivery of a net zero building can, and will, differ.

Achieving the net zero standard

In the Middle East, it’s not uncommon for summer temperatures to soar above 50 degrees, increasing demand for cooling and dehumidification. Finding sustainable, environmentally friendly cooling solutions is a priority for many project owners. To achieve an owner’s objectives and desired net zero standards, design teams need to find a way to optimize natural energy sources from the environment and balance them with the release of construction and operations emissions.

In my experience, a number of factors that position a project team to successfully prepare to construct a net zero building:

  1. Thinking ahead
    Net zero standards are best achieved when owners work with their project teams to define net zero objectives in the early-planning stages of a project. Thinking ahead enables the team to plan and design feasible processes that will dictate the ultimate energy footprint, such as a building’s orientation and window types, air flow, insulation and more. Project managers will look at project constraints through a new lens and identify risk factors pertaining to the site location, the amount of heat the site captures, the available renewable energy sources, regulatory constraints and more.
  2. Team collaboration
    Balancing a building’s energy consumption relies heavily on its design and construction. Establishing a common goal, strong communication processes and a collaborative approach to problem solving helps a project team achieve net zero energy balance throughout the project’s development. In instances where a building’s energy balance is in question, a collaborative team can work together to proactively track any imbalances and find innovative solutions to address them. It’s vital that project managers have the skills to coordinate and communicate clearly with designers, engineers, facility managers and other project stakeholders and leverage the experience and expertise of the entire project team to find creative, energy-efficient solutions.
  3. Maximizing natural energy and identifying an energy budget
    Ideally, project managers will start the design process by studying the building site. Doing so enables the project team to determine the best building size and orientation to maximize natural energy sources. They should also identify how much solar, wind, or other natural energy the building can draw in and reserve and set an ‘energy budget’ for the project. Project managers should track of the energy budget at major milestones to ensure mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) systems align with the budget throughout all phases of construction.
  4. Weighing options for onsite energy generation
    Taking the time to consider different onsite renewable energy generation options for a project and measuring those parameters against the project’s feasibility is also key. Project managers can gather the team together to discuss renewable onsite energy options and how they will impact the target energy value for the design process to achieve a net zero energy balance. They can consider using early commissioning as part of a project management toolbox to ensure all building systems work together. Incorporating energy efficient appliances into the project’s design is just one of the ways to reduce solar energy consumption and bring balance to a project’s energy budget during a building’s operational stage.

Project managers – as a project owner’s advocate – are responsible for keeping a project on track, ensuring the project meets the owner’s objectives, and making sure the project is delivered on time, on budget and within scope. Net zero building standards simply add a layer of complexity to capital projects.

There is a need for project managers to understand how buildings are impacted by their natural environment and to assess how a building’s location, solar exposure, design, construction, etc. can be used to conserve, and even generate, energy. Certification programs are a great way for project managers to enhance their skills, so ask your project managers about their certifications and areas of expertise.

Regardless of where you are in the world, net zero buildings are the future of modern construction. And in turn, there is a growing need for project managers who are familiar with local carbon-free energy solutions. Don’t let your project fall behind. Make sure your project managers are prepared to manage net zero building delivery.