May 28th 2024

Why spreadsheets alone will not get your buildings to net-zero

Why spreadsheets alone will not get your buildings to net-zero

In an era dominated by the urgency to combat climate change, the concept of achieving net-zero emissions within the building sector has gained critical importance. 

The real estate and construction sector is going through a shift as governments, engineers, architects and building users increasingly prioritise sustainability in their activities. Net-zero buildings, which can produce as much energy as they consume, have emerged as the pinnacle of energy performance. When designing or renovating net-zero buildings we have to make key decisions around what systems, materials, controls and renewables we have to implement and this decision-making is dominating the construction sector.

However, the most commonly used tool for this crucial decision-making tends to be spreadsheets and, consequently, this could promote the idea that this method might be sufficient for achieving climate neutrality. In our quest for net-zero buildings and total sustainability, have we forgotten about the critical role of building physics in favour of spreadsheets?

The Problem with Spreadsheets

Spreadsheets have been reliable tools for professionals across various fields for a long time as they are quick and easy to use. Static calculations are important, meaning spreadsheets have infiltrated daily tasks across all commercial sectors. However, spreadsheets and simple mathematical based approaches do not have the breadth of dynamic calculations required to optimise buildings. They do not account for core building physics principles (real-world dynamic processes such as climate, occupancy, heat flow, ventilation, etc.) potentially leading to inaccurate net-zero strategies.

Building physics plays a pivotal role in the net-zero journey for all buildings. Smith and Hensen (2019) assert that a comprehensive understanding of the fundamental principles of building physics is paramount for designing energy-efficient and sustainable buildings. These principles encompass the interplay of building elements, energy flows, and climate interactions, which are intricately linked to the realisation of net-zero objectives. Furthermore, a study by Boerstra et al. (2017) underscores the significance of building physics in optimising energy performance and indoor environmental quality. It highlights the indispensable nature of effective building physics strategies in the quest for net-zero energy buildings. The importance of building physics has even infiltrated pop culture.

Homer is right, his house in Springfield, just like yours, mine and everybody else’s, obeys the laws of thermodynamics. But unlike the houses in the cartoon world of Springfield, we need to account for building physics, which relies on thermodynamics in the real world. We need to consider this if we want to develop and apply accurate renovation/design strategies to help buildings reach net-zero. 

Dynamic Simulation is Key to Addressing Current Market Needs

Dynamic simulation modelling is critical to predict a building's performance and to assess different future building scenarios for net-zero.  With net-zero targets becoming the norm, not using advanced scenario analysis capabilities puts businesses at risk of generating inaccurate strategies and wasting money. Such dynamic capabilities are critical, both as a vital decision-making tool at the design stage, when approaching any new build or retrofit project, but also throughout the remaining building lifecycle, to ensure that net-zero measures deliver on expectation and that a building continues to operate as efficiently as it was intended. 

This is a crucial point as market trends underscore the growing demand for real-time monitoring of building performance. Achieving net-zero building sustainability requires the ability to respond promptly to fluctuations in performance, anticipate potential issues, and implement immediate improvements. Spreadsheets, with their inherent static nature, cannot align with this crucial market need. The lack of real-time data analysis means missed opportunities for timely adjustments, potentially damaging the reputation of a building's sustainability and leading to unnecessary energy consumption, carbon emissions and costs.

A growing emphasis on regulatory compliance is further driving demand for dynamic tools, as governments around the world tighten environmental standards. Staying in compliance with evolving market regulations is not only a legal requirement but also a market imperative for sustainability. Spreadsheets may not adapt quickly to these changing regulations, putting building projects at risk of market non-compliance and potentially damaging their reputation and asset value.

Why Dynamic Simulation Modelling is the Solution

In a market where net-zero building sustainability is the benchmark, relying solely on spreadsheets falls short of the comprehensive approach required. The market now demands comprehensive solutions that provide accurate data, real-time monitoring, integration, collaboration, and regulatory compliance. To effectively navigate this market landscape, businesses in the real estate and construction industries must invest in dynamic simulation modelling and dedicated building sustainability software that aligns with market trends.

Dynamic simulation modelling offers the capacity to understand the intricate interactions of building elements, energy flows, and climate dynamics. It provides a pathway to energy-efficient and sustainable building designs. In addition, it facilitates real-time monitoring, enabling quick responses to performance fluctuations and enhancing the market reputation of sustainable buildings. The ability to conduct robust scenario analysis ensures adaptability to evolving market trends and de-risks net-zero investment decisions. Moreover, it fosters collaboration among stakeholders in the pursuit of building sustainability objectives.

In a world where net-zero building sustainability is a prerequisite rather than a luxury, dynamic simulation modelling emerges as the superior approach for businesses striving to make a lasting impact. Building physics, as substantiated by scientific research, remains a critical component in this journey towards sustainability.

To learn more about IES’s dynamic simulation capabilities and their application throughout the building lifecycle, check out our tools or schedule a one-to-one meeting with me to discuss.