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MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development

global challenges, engineering solutions

Studying at Cambridge

Marwa El-Sayed

Towards Zero Carbon Buildings in Cambridge

The climate change induced by the emissions of greenhouse gases is considered as one of the most important global environmental issues facing the world todayThe building sector has a tremendous impact on the environment. Day-to-day operation of existing buildings absorb approximately 40% of all primary energy use. In the next 25 years, according to the U.S. Green Building Council, CO2 emissions from buildings are predicted to grow faster than any other sector. Sustainable buildings should be designed to be healthy, economical and environmentally friendly.


The objective of the current study is to assess the feasibility of low carbon footprint technologies in existing buildings. A case study of the energy efficiency in a college was conducted in Pembroke College in Cambridge. To improve the carbon footprint of the college, localized technologies rather than centralized methods were taken into consideration. Localized technologies from renewables such as wind or solar power, combined heat and power, and fuel cells were investigated. In addition, tools like building automation systems, control systems and smart meters were studied. To assess the technical feasibility of these tools manual methods such as energy audits, were studied. The viability of these technologies for existing buildings was further examined financially and socially. It was found that investing in new technologies is currently infeasible due to the presence of different sustainable barriers. The immediate plausible approach was to introduce some energy reduction technologies such as energy efficient light bulbs, movement sensors and a better insulation. Moreover, a behavioural survey was conducted where it was shown that we must work equally hard on the demand side and that we cannot rely entirely on changes in the supply side of the equation to reduce the carbon footprint. It was deduced that effort should not be limited to improving the energy efficiency but rather on alternating the nature of the way we work and ultimately examining our values and lifestyles. Changes in the energy consumption habits and perhaps more profoundly lifestyle changes were found to be instrumental in addressing the carbon problem.