There’s more to buildings than meets the eye: They hold a key to net zero emissions

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Expanding role of buildings in the energy systems

At first look, buildings may appear like inert structures, giant boxes made of concrete, steel and glass. But on the inside, they provide space for many activities, most of which require energy. Energy consumption in buildings is needed for lighting, heating, cooling, cooking and powering all sorts of devices. Buildings account for about one third of the world’s final energy use and are key to achieving net zero emissions by mid-century. But in order to play their role in the transition to net zero, buildings must switch from being passive and inefficient energy consumers into active participants in the energy system.

In a modern net-zero future, most buildings would be equipped with a range of digital technologies together with energy efficiency measures and on-site renewable energy generation and storage. Such a transformation would not only allow buildings to use energy more efficiently, but also to interact with the grid to limit costly demand spikes. Electricity costs would decline for consumers, allowing them to take more control over their energy use and thermal comfort. It would also ease congestion in the grid and reduce the need for fossil-burning power plants and their related greenhouse-gas emissions.

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