Owners of buildings should start preparing for a fossil-free future


A picture of high-rise residential houses in Pipeline Estate, Embakasi in a picture taken on March 21, 2021. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]


Good intentions can be tough to translate into practical action but that’s what the commercial property sector must do to meet the global carbon Net Zero targets.

The building sector accounts for over 20 per cent of global energy consumption and is recognised as one of the sectors for which the transition is not nearly so straightforward, because they either lack the technology or its cost remains prohibitive, from the climate-neutrality perspective.

Electrification of buildings is seen as a possible pathway to climate neutrality. Electrifying processes, systems, technology, and equipment in buildings, while concurrently transitioning the electricity mix to renewable energy sources, can lead to necessary emission reductions in this sector.

Borrowing from the EU’s Fit-for-55 legislative programme, developers and building owners must soon start complying with new or updated regulations to curb carbon emissions, that have been set up by different countries.

Maintaining the value of buildings by preparing them for a fossil-free future can be a great buy-in for potential tenants with the increasing shift towards green energy solutions. The government, for instance, has committed to construct housing units compliant with the Excellence in Design for Greater Efficiencies standards.

This is the globally accepted minimum standard for the design of climate-friendly homes. According to Architecture 2030, current non-green buildings generate close to 40 per cent of annual global carbon emissions.

Another immediately attractive outcome is the potential for swift, definitive, reductions in energy costs which can be attained by developing a sustainable commercial building power strategy to support on-site renewable generation, energy storage, and the like.

It is clear why the concept of ‘energy transition’ is gaining traction, with legislation and regulation – both within and outside the EU.

Regulatory schedules are important both in planning new builds and scheduling renovations. In our experience as power management experts, regulation raises questions.

Installing electric vehicle charging infrastructure has come much more sharply into focus. It’s no longer a question of ‘whether or not’ to install EV chargers, it’s more a matter of how many chargers will be needed, how quickly, and where the power will come from?

Currently in Kenya, this is picking up with EV charging stations in a few malls and this is projected to expand more with increased consumer uptake of electric vehicles.

A strategic approach is vital, and we believe it is better to start the energy transition journey now than wait for new regulations to come into effect, not least because there are immediate advantages. A simple start - storing low-cost energy for use when prices peak - is a sure way to save money and by spreading the load, it eases grid congestion.

Energy storage technology is well proven, and it can be installed in most commercial properties, but its value in the energy transition, particularly to help ease grid congestion, is only now being fully realised.

The root of the equation that makes energy storage so valuable in helping commercial buildings get fit for the energy transition is ‘sector coupling’ - making the most efficient use of energy, particularly renewable energy, by coupling consumption with production. The resultant smoothing of demand peaks and troughs helps balance the grid, too.

In a commercial building, sector coupling is likely to mean combining energy storage with on-site generation, and EV charging infrastructure (which can store energy, as well as consume it, and presents the building owner with the opportunity to levy vehicle charging fees).

This type of strategy provides buildings with a degree of self-sufficiency, making it possible to reduce the amount of energy purchased from the grid, store low-cost energy for use when prices are higher, and of course comply with many of the regulations that are likely to emanate from the Fit-for-55.

Building owners should always check local regulations to ensure compliance. Legislation and regulations are part of complex policy initiatives, so there will be differences in interpretation in every country or region but all with the same desire to achieve Net Zero globally.

The author is Parag Mendiratta - Eastern Africa Regional Manager at Eaton Electric Ltd