Zero-carbon emissions set a new standard for green buildings in Vancouver and beyond

This is an artist’s rendering of the future Vancouver Fire Hall 17, which is projected to have net-zero carbon emissions after it’s completed next year. 

Three new Vancouver developments are on the forefront in the next evolution of green buildings.

They’re part of a shift happening in the way buildings are assessed for their environmental performance.

It’s no longer enough that a building is efficient in its energy use. A new standard is whether a building has net-zero carbon emissions. The zero-carbon measure was launched last year by the Canada Green Building Council (CaGBC) as a response to climate change.

According to Mark Hutchinson, vice president of CaGBC’s green-building programs, it’s important to talk about carbon emissions in the context of climate change.

“Carbon or carbon-equivalent emissions are the cause of climate change and therefore the measure that we need to track against if we want to reduce climate change going forward,” Hutchinson told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview from Ottawa.

Climate change has been linked to the buildup of greenhouse gases in Earth’s atmosphere due to the burning of oil, coal, and natural gas for electricity, heating, and transportation.

CaGBC defines a net-zero-carbon building as an energy-efficient structure that also produces energy on-site or procures carbon-free energy to offset greenhouse-gas emissions resulting from its operations.

“Today it’s not a question of having enough energy. We have enough natural gas. We have enough electricity. We have lots of choices, but we have an environmental issue to address and that’s emissions,” Hutchinson said.

CaGBC’s two-year pilot for its zero-carbon building initiative involves 16 projects across Canada, and three of these are in Vancouver.

One is a proposed 36-storey downtown office building at 1133–1155 Melville Street. It was subject to a rezoning application included in the public-hearing agenda of city council on April 17 (result unknown at press time).

The second is at West 8th Avenue and Pine Street, and plans are not yet known.

The third is a City of Vancouver project to replace the old Firehall No. 17 at 7070 Knight Street.

Craig Edwards is manager of energy and utilities with the city’s real-estate and facilities management. According to Edwards, the firehall produces about 33 tonnes of greenhouse-gas emissions per year from gas and electricity.

The new building is projected to have net-zero carbon emissions. Its energy consumption will be reduced because the firehall will be designed to Passive House standards, which means a tight building envelope. It will use electricity instead of gas for its heating requirements.

Although it will be an all-electricity building, Edwards noted that the firehall will still have emissions associated with its operations because seven percent of the energy generated by B.C. Hydro comes from nonrenewable sources.

To offset these emissions, Edwards said, the firehall will have solar panels to produce energy that it can use and sell.

“In the summer, it will produce more energy than the building uses and it will go to the grid and basically use the grid as a battery,” Edwards told the Straight in a phone interview. “And then it will use more energy than produced by the solar panels in the winter, so the net effect will be zero.”

According to Edwards, construction of the new firehall starts in mid-2019.

Carlito PabloStraight