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Nicolas Westenenk Saint-Jean

Delivering Zero Carbon Offices: A whole-life cost analysis of the options to derive the optimum solution for achieving ‘net zero carbon’ in office buildings

Nicolas Westenenk Saint-Jean

Delivering Zero Carbon Offices: A whole-life cost analysis of the options to derive the optimum solution for achieving ‘net zero carbon’ in office buildings

With climate change being a reality supported by the majority of the scientific community, governments are now including several measures to tackle environmental problems in their agendas. Buildings play a substantial role in this area, consuming approximately 40% of the world’s energy and are responsible for around one third of the global emissions, yet they have been identified as the most cost-effective sector to potentially reduce those emissions. The UK’s government has committed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% for 2050 over 1990 levels, and they are addressing the building sector through a ‘zero carbon’ policy, which means that all new buildings will need to be carbon neutral by 2019, starting with homes in 2016.

In order to understand the implications of the zero carbon policy, an agent interested in erecting a zero carbon building must know how to estimate the cost-effectiveness of the measures needed to be incorporated into a building to successfully assess the costs - or benefits, and impacts associated with them. Therefore, the aim of this study is to aid the decision making process of choosing the technologies to include in a building to achieve zero carbon, by showing the key elements that need to be considered in the process and how to evaluate them. Emphasis will be given to office buildings, given that they have the fastest growing rate by floor space in the sector and consume an important part of the UK’s energy.

To achieve this goal, an economic analysis will be carried out using levelised costs, whole-life costs and marginal abatement cost curves to provide a clear and concise comparison of the alternatives that can be included into a building to achieve the emissions targets. These comparisons will be made against a base case building that complies with current regulations and best available practices, to show which measures provide the best mix. Sensitivity case analyses will also be carried out to interpret the role of rising fuel prices, electricity grid decarbonisation levels, and the timing of the investment, whether it would be better to anticipate regulations or wait for them to come into practice.

Data and information have been taken from the authorities and technical reports from associations and specialised consultancy firms to identify updated costs and financial information, concepts, and definitions. However, it is more relevant for this study to show how the economic analysis is carried out, as it is the primary objective to provide assistance to an early evaluation of the technologies needed to achieve zero carbon and not to deliver a cost appraisal of them, given the constant fluctuations that the market shows in their prices.