A newly released examination of deep retrofit logistics finds that few of the existing technologies projected to help dramatically curb greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions have yet conquered their market categories. The study from the Canada Green Building Council (CAGBC) and the Delphi Group assesses 27 strategic building products and systems for availability, affordability and degree of adoption within the industry, and concludes that only eight figure positively for all three of those considerations.
“In this moment of supply challenges and climate crisis, there is an opportunity to redefine the building sector by shifting our focus to sustainable building technologies and products,” the authors maintain. “There are clear technical interventions needed to achieve energy and carbon reductions in Canada’s building stock. The readiness of key technology and products will inhibit or accelerate the market’s capacity to undertake green retrofits.”
Electrical and mechanical equipment have made greater progress toward being the status quo, while more obstacles to market penetration are noted for building envelope technologies and renewable energy systems. The eight products already enjoying wide uptake include: LED lighting products; lamps and ballasts; premium efficiency motors; variable air volume (VAV) systems; airside economizer damper controls; modulating burners; demand-controlled ventilation; and distribution system insulation.
The study reiterates that market awareness, a steady supply chain and competitive pricing will be needed to encourage the rollout of low-carbon technologies on the scale required to achieve emissions reduction goals. It also calls for a priority focus on six key technologies identified as “having greater relevance on the future of building improvements”. These are:
- building automation systems (BAS);
- heat pumps;
- heat and energy recovery systems;
- wall recladding systems;
- building integrated photovoltaics (BIPV); and
- energy storage.
Heat and energy recovery systems are deemed to have the narrowest gap to close. The assessment concludes that the industry has a good grasp on how to specify, install and operate the technology and that it is readily available in Canada, but that it still comes at a moderately higher price than conventional alternatives. Currently, the systems — which can extract waste heat from ventilation systems, chillers, hot water drains and/or sewage — are more typically a feature of new construction than retrofits.
Cost and requirements for a certain level of operational proficiency are considered the main impediments for building automation systems, which optimize performance through the smart integration of multiple systems, including HVAC, lighting and security. Meanwhile, the study contends the North American market is far from embracing the full potential for heat pumps, which come with some cost hurdles and other complications for retrofit projects.
“Air-to-water and cold climate air-source heat pump technology do exist but the number of options available in the North American marketplace is still very limited. High-efficiency electric technology for central domestic hot water applications is less widely available, especially for larger commercial and institutional applications,” it states. “In the case of retrofits, the installation of heat pumps may also be reliant on drilling wells in parking lots which require skills and equipment that is not widely accessible.”
Of the remaining key technologies, energy storage and BIPV rank somewhat higher for industry familiarity than wall recladding systems, but all three struggle with cost and availability factors. In a rare example, wall recladding was a major contributor to last year’s Passive House certification of the Ken Soble Tower, an aging building in the City of Hamilton’s subsidized housing portfolio and the largest residential building in the world thus far to be retrofitted to the Passive House standard.
“Wall cladding involves laying material over another material to form a ‘skin’ on the walls to increase efficiency. Wall recladding systems are not widely available and can be expensive. They are not in use across the industry despite being associated with substantive carbon and energy savings,” the deep retrofit logistics study affirms.
Related to the building envelope, BIPV are solar power generating products or systems incorporated into facades, roofs and/or windows. They are reportedly experiencing “substantive market growth in Europe and the United States” but are seldom seen in Canadian retrofit projects.
Energy storage is considered instrumental to peak demand management, the transition to renewable power sources and climate change resiliency — allowing for offloading from the electricity grid or providing backup power. For now, the deep retrofit logistics study deems it is “not yet widely available or cost-effective in the Canadian marketplace”.
Other building products and technologies identified as having made few inroads in market awareness, availability and affordability include: high-efficiency curtain walls; roll-up receiving doors with high R-value; and hybrid wind and photovoltaic renewable energy systems.
Related to the building envelope, thermal break technology and energy-efficient windows and doors are deemed widely available, but still pricier than conventional alternatives and lacking industry uptake. Perhaps more curiously, reflective roofs are flagged as affordable and widely available, but still short on industry buy-in.
Aside from heat pumps, electric high-efficiency domestic hot water is the only mechanical technology where analysts conclude across-the-board improvement is needed in awareness, availability and affordability. Electric vehicle chargers are similarly characterized among electrical equipment.
In large part, green building specialists link the varied pace of industry uptake to the likewise diverse life cycles of building systems and components. While it’s a certainty that some equipment will be replaced multiple times before 2030 or 2050, there will be far fewer opportunities to invest in other technologies.
“Different parts of the building last different lengths of time and you have to look for these natural inflection points of when the boiler is actually due to be replaced, the windows are due to be replaced, the roof is due to be replaced,” Steve Kemp, a principal with RDH Building Science, told attendees at CAGBC’s recent annual conference in Toronto. “Wall systems last a long, long time so we may not be getting all buildings replacing their walls in time to help us make these targets.”
That said, he welcomes new technologies and products.
“We have equipment gaps,” Kemp advised. “We need kit for repurposing existing buildings.”