Report: Corporate Real Estate Managers Aim for Zero Net Energy

Even without soaring energy prices as a primary motivator, global corporations — and more specifically their real estate departments — are increasingly focused on achieving a state of zero net energy (ZNE) according to a report released on January 4 by Atlanta-based  CoreNet Global,

The report, entitled The Bigger Picture: The Future of Corporate Real Estate, outlines strategies to achieve those reductions – which usually fall into three main buckets:

  • Energy efficiency, including retrofitting buildings with LED lights, improved water filtration systems and heating/cooling; as well as constructing buildings with more efficient systems in place.
  • Renewable energy sources on-site.
  • Off-site renewable energy purchasing, such as purchasing of renewable energy credits (RECs), or creation of power purchase agreements by which firms contract to buy energy from a wind or solar farm.

“[Zero net energy] … is a very active topic, but it may not be driven as much by cost and cost savings as it has in the past,” Karen Ellzey, executive managing director of Consulting for Global Workplace Solutions at CBRE, a commercial real estate services firm based in Los Angeles, told the researchers.. “I think it is going to be driven more by regulatory issues and companies’ perspectives on how this is going to support their broader brand and social responsibility objectives.”

While companies are approaching energy use with varying levels of focus and reasons for doing so, innovation clearly is taking place. For example, Unilever CEO Paul Polmon announced in November 2015 that the company would work toward being carbon positive by 2030. Essentially, he said, 100 percent of its energy across operations would come from renewable sources, and with the help of partners, the company will directly support the generation of more renewable energy than it needs for its operations, making the surplus available to the markets and communities in which it operates.

Oracle also has enjoyed success in introducing solar power at some locations. The company added a three-canopy photovoltaic solar system to its new Gold LEED-certified building in Burlington, Massachusetts. The system sits atop a four-story parking deck and is expected to generate about 720,000 kWh after its first year of operation. That’s enough energy to power approximately 80 average-size homes for one year.

Indeed, existing buildings represent a “huge reservoir of real estate [representing] a gold mine of potential deep retrofit-driven profitability,” according to another recent report, released on December 30 by the Rocky Mountain Institute, called  How to Calculate and Present Deep Retrofit Value: A Guide for Investors. 

RMI defines deep energy retrofits as those that “employ an integrated array of energy efficiency measures … to reduce energy consumption by 30 percent or more compared to the pre-retrofit energy use while achieving superior sustainability performance.”

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