“Net Zero” is a puzzle that we should be solving every time we get the opportunity to design a new building. It’s the kind of thing that only a few obsess about, yet it impacts everyone. The deeper into the water of sustainability you dip your toe, the more frequently you’re going to bump into the term. It’s wrapped up in one of the largest puzzles for humanity: how to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions enough to be able to keep the planet habitable.
Net Zero homes or buildings generate as much energy as they use over the course of a year. This includes everything from heating, to hot water, lighting, appliances, and electronics.
Peter Amerongen, the subject of this episode of Renewable, is trying to solve this Net Zero puzzle on a massive scale.
Peter is a home builder in Edmonton, Alberta. His latest project is the first Net Zero multi-family housing in the country. Peter is trying to build — not just a very large Net Zero project — but a Net Zero project with a social goal underpinning it. It’s a multi-family affordable residence for new immigrants to the city. Which is a first in Canada.
Basically, Peter is responsible for a building that needs to produce a lot of energy because it has to house a lot of people. It needs to produce as much energy as it consumes, which considering how many people will be living in it is a significant challenge. With our cold winters, our buildings are responsible for 65% of our energy use, meaning it needs to be well insulated in order to consume less and reach Net Zero. It also needs to be beautifully integrated into an existing neighbourhood. This episode of Renewable digs into what that means, in terms of engineering, economics and environmentalism.
Peter’s story illustrates the fact that while we’ve generally cracked how to make Net Zero houses, we’re just starting to figure out how to make the kinds of housing that people need. We’re taking what we’ve learned about building Net Zero homes, and using it on a broader range of buildings. Everyone needs a place to live, and in order to meet our sustainability goals, we need to find ways to get the housing people need, up to that Net Zero standard.
If Net Zero is a puzzle we’ve figured out how to solve, we’re beginning to see that the next step in sustainability is figuring out how to solve that puzzle in new contexts. For Peter, it’s building the first Net Zero non-profit multi-family housing and church in the country. For the new generation of builders, it will be something else.
Peter’s story is grounded in the realization that for every unique, inconvenient, difficult new context in which we need to figure out how to build Net Zero housing, there is an opportunity to create a kind of building that’s never been built before. Every time we crack this puzzle, we’re creating something truly first-of-its-kind and developing the pieces to solve the next one. It’s an almost bottomless opportunity to innovate. And as long as there are people like Peter who find an opportunity like that too appealing to say no, we’ll keep moving forward.
Renewable is a series about visionaries, creators, community leaders and above all else, Edmontonians, each with a unique vision of a sustainable future in the heart of Canada’s fossil fuel industry.
The Renewable Series Team is composed of the City of Edmonton’s Energy Transition group and the creative minds at Sticks & Stones.
For more information visit Edmonton.ca/RenewableSeries