Vancouver has adopted a radical strategy put forward by city planners that aims for all new buildings to emit 90 percent less greenhouse gas (GHG) by 2025 and be completely emissions-free by 2030.
The $2.3-million plan borrows from similar strategies in New York and Brussels and targets both high-rise and low-rise multiple-residence buildings. These represent respectively about 18 percent and 10 percent of all new square footage in Vancouver. Retrofitting existing building stock is not part of the new plan.
Existing 2014 by-laws targeted detached homes and duplexes, which make up 44 percent of all new building area. These rules have already reduced Vancouver’s GHG emissions by 48 percent on 2007 levels.
Buildings consume three quarters of all energy used in Vancouver and produce 55 per cent of its emissions, according to a 2015 study produced by the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions (PICS). (For comparison, roughly 12 percent of British Columbia’s GHGs come from buildings, and they use 29 percent of the province’s energy).
The largest culprits are heating and cooling. So Vancouver’s plan emphasises triple-paned windows, better insulation, and efficient building design such as less exposed concrete to minimize heat losses.
These targets will steadily be ratcheted downward over time until they reach zero in 2030. And the majority of new buildings must use 100 percent renewable energy (such as waste heat, electricity and bio-energy recovered from local waste) instead of natural gas, and have no emissions by 2025.
Meanwhile, the City itself is to lead the way with all new buildings owned or managed by the city to immediately demonstrate zero-emission building approaches where viable.
Much of the plan was developed in concert with Pembina, a sustainability think-tank, drawing on proposals outlined in two PICS-funded reports published in 2015 on the options for ultra-efficient or ‘net-zero’ emissions buildings and changes to BC’s building code.
Vancouver’s plan explores the development of district heating systems, a very old and simple energy solution that has been in use in some parts of North America for over a century. Instead of buildings having their own boilers, furnaces, electric baseboards, or water heaters, heating and cooling is centralized for a neighbourhood. Many British Columbian communities have already forged ahead with the concept, making BC a district-heating leader on the continent.
The strategy also creates a three-year, $1.6-million programme to assist developers with the construction of energy-efficient detached and row houses.
The Climate Examiner speaks to BC-based Carbon Engineering about the technology, the business and the policies that could make direct air capture, synfuels and carbon sequestration work.