National Yards buidling

Renewable buildings

Our strategy is to target building energy—primarily in space heating and hot water use.

Buildings are the largest source of emissions in Vancouver—56% of the city’s total emissions in 2014.

The majority of non-renewable energy used in Vancouver buildings is used to produce heat—typically through burning natural gas. A zero-emission building emits no greenhouse gases form the energy it uses.

Our strategy is to target building energy use—mainly for space heating and hot water—to have the largest carbon reduction impact.

Imagine a city where homes and offices have clean and comfortable environments, are less expensive to heat and cool, and use only renewable sources of energy.   


Renewable energy options for buildings

Energy Sources Chart

Citywide building energy demand could be reduced by over a third compared to 2014 levels.

We could reduce these levels by:

  • Adopting zero-emission buildings
  • Requiring buildings that undergo a retrofit obtain a similar level of performance to new construction
  • Connecting buildings to neighbourhood renewable energy systems

Of that energy demand which does remain, about 70% can be met through renewable electricity (both generated on-site and grid supplied), which is about a 10-15% increase in building related electrical demand compared to today.

The remaining energy need can be met with biomethane and neighbourhood renewable energy systems.


Building envelope

The building envelope is the fabric of the building:

  • Walls
  • Roof
  • Windows
  • Doors, etc.

The envelope keeps weather out and manages heat and airflow, all in an effort to maintain a comfortable internal environment.

Advances in both materials and building design are contributing to the development of new windows, insulation, and roofing that can significantly reduce heat loss, as can design changes that limit energy-inefficient features such as expansive windows.

Building systems

Building systems include:

  • Heating systems
  • Ventilation systems
  • Air conditioning systems
  • Hot water equipment

The building type affects the size, nature, and complexity of these systems, which can include appliances and devices that use electricity such as TVs, smartphones, and computers (known as plug loads). Some buildings also have more specialist systems like elevators, loading equipment, and server rooms. Home storage (batteries) will start to become an important component of future building systems.

How we can influence a reduction in building emissions

We can influence the reduction in building emissions through the following methods.

We can guide development and urban design through:

  • Land use and zoning/rezoning policies and guidelines
  • Regulating building standards and ensure building safety
  • Establishing neighbourhood renewable energy utilities, like the Southeast False Creek Neighbourhood Energy Utility

Ensuring that buildings meet zero-emission standards from the time they are built is the most effective way that buildings use as little energy as possible.

We are looking to:

  • Accelerate the construction of zero-emission new buildings
  • Connect large buildings that have already been built to a neighbourhood renewable energy system

A zero-emission building can meet its energy needs through either:

  • On-site generation
  • Connection to an off-site renewable energy source like a neighbourhood renewable energy system or the electrical grid

It is possible to use the natural building renewal cycle to meet zero-emission standards for major building components that have reached the end of their useful life and are replaced less frequently.

Buildings that were not originally built to zero-emission standards will likely undergo some form of retrofit before 2050. Developers should install the most efficient building equipment available at the time of construction or upgrade to that standard at the time of a retrofit.  

Our Neighbourhood Energy Strategy and Energy Centre Guidelines set the long-term vision for the development of neighbourhood renewable energy with a focus on:

  • Converting the existing downtown and hospital campus steam heat systems from fossil fuels to renewable carbon energy sources
  • Establishing and expanding new systems to serve high-density areas
  • Expanding neighbourhood energy systems

Our industrial lands have the opportunity to become significant renewable energy hubs through local and on-site generation, and we will continue to preserve these lands to secure the long-term economic strength of Vancouver.

Low density development—those areas with a lot of single-family homes or low-rise condos and apartments—must have its heating needs (both space and hot water) met by renewable electricity from the grid or from on-site renewable energy generation.

On-site renewable energy generation can come from:

  • Solar power or solar thermal
  • On-site wind generation
  • Heat pumps (that would likely use grid-supplied electricity)

More grid-scale renewable electricity generation should be brought into service. 

Current regulation allows for up to 7% of the electricity used in Vancouver to come from non-renewable sources, and we will work with our utility partners to find ways to make that portion renewable.

If the electricity supplied is not 100% renewable, we will investigate how to secure renewable electricity from other sources.

Zero-emission building priorities

Short-term actions that we will implement to reduce building energy.

B.1.1 - Adopt and demonstrate zero-emission standards in new City of Vancouver building construction

B.1.2 - Ensure rezoning policy leads the transition to zero-emission buildings

B.1.3 - Incentivize and streamline the development of exemplary buildings

B.1.4 - Establish and enforce specific greenhouse gas intensity limits for new developments

B.1.5 - Develop innovative financing tools to help fund new zero-emission buildings

B.1.6 - Establish partnerships to build industry capacity

B.1.7 - Mandate building energy benchmarking and labelling requirements

B.2.1 - Use the Zero-Emission New Building Strategy to reduce the need for building retrofits

B.2.2 - Mandate energy efficiency improvements for existing buildings

B.2.3 - Provide flexibility to achieve energy efficiency requirements through the support of on-site generation or neighbourhood energy system connection

B.2.4 - Facilitate modest retrofits through incentives and financial support mechanisms

B.2.5 - Increase renewable energy use by large energy consumers

B.3.1 - Expand existing Neighbourhood Renewable Energy Systems

B.3.2 - Enable the conversion of the Downtown and Hospital Steam Systems from natural gas to renewable energy.

B.3.3 - Enable the development of new neighbourhood renewable energy systems for downtown and the Cambie corridor

B.3.4 - Continue to enforce and update as required, building and renewable energy supply policies that support neighbourhood renewable energy systems.

B.4.1 - Partner with utility partners to increase the supply of renewable energy

B.4.2 - Partner with utility partners to implement a smart grid that meets Vancouver’s energy needs

Initiatives that are helping us reach our goal and targets

Zero Emissions Building Plan

This plan will eliminate emissions from new buildings by 2030 through energy efficiency and renewable energy, and is the next step to advance the Renewable City Strategy.

Building Retrofit Strategy - 2014

Learn how we plan to save Vancouver residents and businesses over $90 million and 160,000 tonnes of GHGs per year by 2020.

Neighbourhood Energy Strategy

The Neighbourhood Energy Strategy will help develop additional neighbourhood energy systems throughout Vancouver.

Renewable energy options for buildings