As environmental responsibility and eco-consciousness grow across the globe,
the world is looking to move towards more sustainable, greener practices,
reducing carbon footprints and creating environments that have a lesser
impact on the environment. Physical premises make up a large proportion of
any organisation’s impact and as such there is a worldwide movement towards
more energy efficient and eco-friendly buildings, with some countries more
proactive in this area than others.
In South Africa particularly the looming energy crisis and ever-increasing
cost of utilities such as electricity are driving this new consciousness as
organisations seek to find ways to decrease costs, with an added benefit of
improved environmental impact through reduced greenhouse gas emissions.
There are many ways in which companies are seeking to reduce energy
consumption and carbon footprints, a number of which are currently being
employed locally and around the world, from utilising available natural
light to recycling water and using excess energy generated by air
conditioners to heat water. But constructing greener buildings is far from
the end point in the pursuit of energy efficiency and sustainability.
In fact the ultimate state for buildings — both commercial and residential
– is to create net-zero energy buildings. These, put simply, offset the use
of energy from fossil fuel sources such as utility electricity by generating
energy on-site using renewable sources, so that the net environmental impact
is zero. In other words non-renewable energy is used simply to supplement
that created by the building in times of high demand, and during times of
low demand excess energy generated on site can be exported back to the
utility grid, cancelling out any usage of electricity from the grid.
While there are a few of this type of buildings in existence in the United
States, for countries like South Africa, where energy has historically been
delivered at low cost and the return on investment for implementing
renewable energy source technology as a result has been low, the zero energy
concept is currently far from becoming a reality. However this is the ideal,
a vision for the future that gives the environmentally and cost conscious
organisations a goal to aim at when beginning the journey towards more
Currently, creating a zero energy building in South Africa is not yet
financially viable, as renewable energy technology remains expensive to
implement and the ROI cannot be justified even against rising utility energy
costs. Aside from this, there is at the moment no system in place to sell
excess energy back onto the national power grid, so the system cannot pay
for itself in this fashion either.
However as more research is put into renewable energy sources such as solar
power and wind turbines, and as demand grows, the price of these will begin
to drop. And the reality is that with the energy situation as it stands in
the country the cost of utility energy will only increase as supply cannot
keep up with demand. Planning ahead for the day when a zero energy building
will not only be financially viable, but will in fact save money, is key to
the future sustainability of enterprise in South Africa.
Businesses would do well to begin taking the steps that will lead to greater
efficiency now, so that when renewable energy sources and zero energy
buildings become a viable option they are ready to seize the opportunity and
reap the benefits, both financial and environmental.
Creating improved efficiency is the first step on the journey towards a zero
energy building, as energy saved is energy that the building itself does not
need to produce. While the end goal is to produce energy on site, steps to
improve efficiency now will provide immediate benefit and will set the
building in a strong position to create zero energy impact in future.
One of the easiest and quickest was to improve efficiency is to reduce every
energy consuming load as much as possible as well as to eliminate
unnecessary energy usage. Second to this is the need to create systems
efficiency to meet the required loads as effectively as possible. This can
be done by ensuring that motors, fans and insulation amongst other aspects
are optimal for the building, to reduce wasted energy. These two steps
provide quick wins that will deliver immediate returns.
To take energy efficiency to the next level, regenerative systems can be put
into place to use waste energy for practical purposes, such as the earlier
example of HVAC energy being used to heat water. Choosing energy efficient
devices when it comes time to upgrade is another important step and one
which can be taken at any time.
Finally, the last step in creating zero-energy buildings is to implement
renewable systems that generate power on site using renewable sources, such
as solar power, wind farms, biomass or even thermal energy depending on the
location of the building and the nature of the surrounding environment.
While the concept of a net zero energy building in South Africa is currently
just that, a concept and nothing more, there will come a time when such a
venture will make financial sense and become a viable option, and that time
is not too far in the future.
Planning for this eventuality by having the vision and taking the first
steps on the journey towards greener, more sustainable buildings will stand
organisations in good stead for years ahead, ensuring not only less
environmental impact but improved sustainability and profitability as well.
About Johnson Controls
Johnson Controls is a global diversified technology and industrial leader
serving customers in over 150 countries. Our 137,000 employees create
quality products, services and solutions to optimize energy and operational
efficiencies of buildings; lead-acid automotive batteries and advanced
batteries for hybrid and electric vehicles; and interior systems for
automobiles. Our commitment to sustainability dates back to our roots in
1885, with the invention of the first electric room thermostat. Through our
growth strategies and by increasing market share we are committed to
delivering value to shareholders and making our customers successful.
About Johnson Controls Building Efficiency
Johnson Controls delivers products, services and solutions that increase
energy efficiency and lower operating costs in buildings for more than one
million customers. Operating from 500 branch offices in 148 countries, we
are a leading provider of equipment, controls and services for heating,
ventilating, air-conditioning, refrigeration and security systems. We have
been involved in more than 500 renewable energy projects including solar,
wind and geothermal technologies. Our solutions have reduced carbon dioxide
emissions by 13.6 million metric tons and generated savings of $7.5 billion
since 2000. Many of the world’s largest companies rely on us to manage 1.5
billion square feet of their commercial real estate.
By Karl van Eck, Regional General Manager Johnson Controls Global Energy