How to Power a Renewable World: Green Buildings and Building Networks as Key Change Agents
Steven Vanholme | Mar 9th 2016

The world is well on its way towards a renewable energy future but will need strong leaders to expedite this important transition. Green buildings and green building networks are currently an underused resource that can take on this leadership role.


 

The world will soon be 100% powered by renewable energy.

This is apparent in the myriad of reports as well as in the global agenda on climate change cinched at the COP21 in Paris in December last year. We know that our available “carbon budget” will soon reach its end and that we are slowly inching our way to a 1,5 Celsius global temperature increase, a limit that we should avoid surpassing.

In many parts of the world, renewable energy is already cheaper than fossil fuels. Quoting Adnan Z. Amin, Director-General of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA): “The game has changed; the plummeting price of renewables is creating a historic opportunity to build a clean, sustainable energy system and avert catastrophic climate change in an affordable way.” And because renewable energy is enabled by technologies, not scarce resources, it will only get cheaper. It is safe to say that we are witnessing a paradigm shift, comparable to the internet and mobile telecommunication revolution of the last two decades.

But in order to successfully shift to renewables we will need strong leaders.

The crucial difference between the renewable energy revolution and the revolution in the telecommunication sector is the timing and the ‘drivers’ of this change. The world would probably not have experienced seismic shifts had the introduction of the Internet and mobile phones taken ten more years. But in the case of the renewables, every month counts: climate change is already shaking the planet in the form of extreme weather events, with more to follow unless we drastically speed up our action for the climate. If we don’t act now, we will have a hard time keeping the temperature changes more or less under control.

Electricity is, unfortunately, much less tangible than a smartphone. If a solar panel and a wind turbine had the same appeal and the direct impact on people’s life as a mobile phone with an internet connection, the world would already be running on renewable energy (or at least be half way there)

This is where the importance of leaders comes in: we need consumers and change agents who can show the way. Not only by using renewable energy, but also by proudly communicating about it. The likes of Colruyt Group, a Belgian retail corporation  managing the wide chain of Colruyt supermarkets, investing in wind turbines and different renewable energy-focused energy cooperatives are paving the way.

Another set of movers and shakers are green buildings and green building networks – a group that can definitely take on leadership and play an important role in shifting the world towards renewable energy.

Why?

  • In most countries, buildings represent 30 to 40% of total final energy consumption (other sectors are e.g. industry and transport)
  • Buildings are the places where people spend most of their time: to work, eat, relax and sleep. This is the place where they get electricity out of the wall and where they consume most of the electricity.
  • Green building networks already have experience in communicating about the impacts of buildings, and in setting workable standards to reduce that impact.
  • The green building sector is well structured and the green building councils form a unique structure where experts exchange experience and measures.

The first steps to leveraging this network of renewable energy advocates have already been taken: An increasing number of green building standards are now explicitly recommending that all purchased electricity should be renewable. The Green Key voluntary eco-label for hotels and tourist, for instance, ties adhering establishments to provide documentation that they use energy from renewable sources. BREEAM, the world’s foremost environmental assessment method and rating system for buildings, has become a strong advocate for the specification and design of energy efficient building operations.

The LEED Standard goes one step further by not just referring to renewable energy, but to ecolabeled green electricity, such as electricity with the Green-e or EKOenergy label. By purchasing ecolabeled green electricity, the buyer guarantees that the purchase has a higher positive impact: In addition to tracking renewable electricity, an ecolabel often takes into account people and biodiversity as well as .It also makes it easier for buildings to communicate about their green energy purchase, which helps to convince even more people to follow the example.

Buying green energy is easy. And it is possible to make it even easier by collaborating. Green buildings and green building networks can help pave the way not only in countries where renewable electricity is already a common practice, but also in countries where it is not.

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Further reading

Recently, EKOenergy, the German Green Building Association and the US Green Building Council made an online course about green power: Green Power: How to buy renewable electricity for LEED and carbon accounting. The same course is also available in German and soon also in French.

You can also have a look at summaries on YouTube (English, German, French, Spanish).

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