The following viewpoint initially featured in edie's Net-Zero November 2023 summary report. For further net-zero insights, covering everything from green policy and innovation, to energy security and the built environment, you can download your free copy of the report here.
With the UK’s landmark Net Zero Carbon Buildings Standard due to launch later this year, buildings are set to climb high on the net-zero agenda as we look forward to the year ahead. While traditionally building efficiency standards in the UK have been very much focused upon design stage compliance, it has long been recognised by those working in the AEC sector that a whole-life approach to measuring building performance, which encompasses both embodied and operational carbon, is essential to overcoming the performance gap between design predictions and actual in-use performance to achieve net-zero goals.
Clients too are catching on to the fact that a highly efficient EPC rating afforded to their building at the design stage does not necessarily equate to a highly energy efficient, low-carbon building in operation. There are many factors which can cause performance to deviate away from design intent through a building’s lifecycle, with unregulated energy loads, an often rushed building handover and commissioning process, and unpredictable occupant behaviour being just a few examples. However, with many businesses now having set themselves the target of getting their buildings to net-zero carbon in operation by 2030, this leaves just six years to bridge that gap.
One of the key things businesses need to prioritise within their overarching net-zero strategies as we head into 2024 is in-use building performance evaluation. Often referred to as post-occupancy evaluation or POE, these studies encapsulate a range of robust assessment methods designed to measure the operational performance of a building and provide a mechanism for feedback between occupiers and designers. These assessments might include energy auditing, internal-environment quality tests and first-person questionnaires designed to understand the lived experience of a building and help identify improvements or anomalies.
These studies can be greatly enhanced by the incorporation of a dynamic energy model or digital twin which leverages data from building management systems, sensors and other data sources alongside advanced simulation capabilities to support the continuous tracking, measurement and monitoring of key performance metrics across the building lifecycle. This is an approach that is now advocated by many different professional industry bodies, methodologies and standards. However, a general lack of understanding of the benefits, combined with the non-compulsory nature of POE studies, means that this is yet to become common practice.
That isn’t to say that the tide isn’t beginning to turn. IES recently led the development of a collaborative industry whitepaper which explored the current appetite, benefits and challenges of a whole-life building performance modelling approach, and advocated for better use of energy models throughout the entire building lifecycle to support decarbonisation goals. Our research, which comprised of quantitative interviews with a range of leading AEC practitioners, industry bodies, building owners and operators, combined with the results of a 240+ industry stakeholder survey, saw several AEC contributors state that POE studies are coming up more frequently in project briefs. Meanwhile, 53% of building owners/operators that responded to our survey stated that this was something they were now seeking consulting support with.
For further insights on this topic from some of the industry’s leading voices, and to access the full results of our built environment stakeholder survey, you can download the whitepaper here.