Canadian Consulting Engineer

Canadian Consulting Engineer   

Computers gobbling up energy in commercial buildings, says report


A foundation funded by the Canadian government to help foster sustainable technologies released a report on Novembe...

A foundation funded by the Canadian government to help foster sustainable technologies released a report on November 23 outlining a “blueprint for greener commercial buildings in Canada.”
Sustainable Development Technology Canada (SDTC) released the 58-page “Commercial Buildings, Eco-Efficiency, SD Business Case Report” in Toronto. It provides a summary of the state of commercial buildings’ use of energy, water and waste management, and the picture isn’t very pretty.
The report also provides a list of design processes and building technologies that “should be considered as immediate investment opportunities.”
Presenting an overview of the technical material, an SDTC executive explained that the energy use and greenhouse gas emissions from Canada’s commercial building stock was going up at a faster rate than the actual increase in square footage would warrant. Despite our best efforts at energy conservation, the SDTC presenter explained, between 1990 and 2004 the energy use of commercial buildings has risen 35%, about 2.5% per year. Operating energy (as opposed to embodied energy in building materials) represents about 85% of that total.
While space heating constitutes fully half of the energy used in commercial buildings (52%), the surprising finding is that energy consumption of auxiliary equipment — computers, task lighting, security systems, etc. — accounts for the next largest proportion of energy use — 14%. In fact auxiliary equipment is the fastest growing energy consumer. Space cooling is also on the rise, but accounts for only 8% of energy consumption, while general space lighting consumption is now falling in relative terms, but still represents 10% of the total.
The “Commercial Buildings – Eco-Efficiency” SD Business Case Report is the fifth in a series that SDTC has produced. The previous four reports were related to power production. The organization uses the reports to make decisions about what kinds of new technologies it will help finance. SDTC administers a $550-million fund to support projects that address climate change, air quality, clean water and clean soil. It provides the funds to selected consortia who are developing technologies that are beyond the research stage, but not yet commercialized and ready for the market.
As Vicky Sharpe, the institute’s director explained, their mandate is to fund projects that are between the precommercial and market entry stage — a stage which is fraught with difficulties, and which often ends up being a black hole from which many promising technologies never survive. SDTC provides 30% of the funding for technologies it assesses are worthy, with both a medium and long-term range of potential in mind. It assesses the potential market for candidate technologies based on a “star” system, which takes into account the technological, economic, political and social context.
The SDTC’s latest report identified a long list of non-technical and technical needs that the commercial building sector should be addressing. Among them are general recommendations such as the imposition of a “price on carbon.” The report says, “industry stakeholders agree that the single largest driver of sustainable buildings could be a realistic and consistent price on fossil fuel based carbon.
The report also recommends an integrated supply chain and integrated building practices, improved building codes and greater enforcement, and continuous reporting of “realistic building performance data.”
In terms of specific technologies the report identifies in the short term as good candidates for investments, these include low energy distribution systems, distributed generation, individual occupancy controls and next generation water reduction devices.
For medium term investment, the list of most promising technologies for investment includes solar-powered absorption/adsorption chillers, next generation geothermal systems, integrated renewable energy control systems, biomass cogeneration and heating, and desiccant humidification and cooling.
High priority long-term investments suggested include dynamic building envelope components, i.e. building materials and components that can respond to different conditions.
Based on studies and findings by academia, government ministries, industry associations and specialists, the report acknowledges the input of several engineering consultants, including Greg Allen of HOK, Bob Bach of Energy Profiles, Stephen Carpenter of Enermodal Engineering, John Cowan of Environmental Interface, Randall Goodfellow of Goodfellow Agricola Consultants, Ian Jarvis of Enerlife Consulting, Gordon Shymko of G.F. Shymko & Associates, Jiri Skopek of ECD Energy and Environment Canada, Tom Tamblyn of Dearness Environmental Society, Doug Webber of Halsall Associates and Alex Zimmerman of Applied Green Consulting.
All building types were covered in the report, except for residential buildings. Canada has about 400,000 commercial buildings.
To see the full report, visit


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