A commercial real estate company in the United States is calling for a “formidable undertaking” to triple the country’s energy retrofit rate to meet an ambitious net-zero emissions target.
The report by Chicago-based Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL) points to the 80% of U.S. office buildings that will still be in use in 2050 and calls for an annual 3.0 to 3.5% retrofit rate for the commercial stock. It warns of a “significant knowledge gap” that can only be filled by upskilling the labour force and delivering sustainability training for building professionals, Utility Dive reports.
The analysis echoes calls in Canada for a national deep retrofit mission to drastically improve the energy performance of every home and commercial building. Last month, the Retrofit Canada conference in Montreal generated a flurry of content on energy retrofit technologies, financing, and regulation, with panelists presenting successful case studies and talking about how to build buy-in for deeper retrofits for different asset types and building industry segments.
But commercial sector presentations during the two-day event still spotlighted successes with individual buildings, when whole portfolios will have to turn over quickly to meet a 2040 or 2050 deadline to complete the work.
The JLL report stresses the value of whole-building retrofits that can improve energy efficiency by 40 to 60% in offices and 30 to 35% in logistics facilities, compared to 10 or 15% with light retrofits focused on performance optimization. “While electrifying building systems requires a large capital investment, it is more effective than incremental, small energy conservation retrofits, such as replacing a fossil fuel burning boiler with a more efficient gas burning system,” Utility Dive writes, citing JLL.
Although simpler retrofits cost less up front, they “do not fully remove emissions from a building’s operations,” the news story adds. “On the other hand, system electrification helps to future-proof assets, enables better ROI [return on investment] determinations for investors, and can be used to bundle initiatives into larger capex projects and reduce payback periods for the upgrades.”
The study says the retrofit rate for commercial buildings across the 17 countries of the global North must more than triple from an average of about 1% per year, at a combined cost of more than US$3 trillion. “These changes will need to be made rapidly now, and consistently for the next 30 years, to meet climate pledge goals and decarbonization mandates,” Utility Dive says.
In the U.S., as in Canada, knowledge gaps and labour shortages “present key roadblocks,” with building occupants “already feeling the pinch,” the industry newsletter adds. The JLL report stresses the need to close the skill gap, deliver sustainability training for building engineers, architects, and consultants, and help occupants and other stakeholders understand the value of energy retrofits.