The global construction industry is one of the biggest contributors to the greenhouse gas problem that’s driving climate change. Approximately 30 per cent of greenhouse gases emitted worldwide can be traced back to the built environment, presenting a major opportunity to mitigate climate change.

The construction industry, which has welcomed this challenge, has been making great progress to ensure that new buildings are not only energy-efficient, but also capable of self-generating their remaining energy requirement.

Brent Trenga, Building Technology Director for Kingspan Insulated Panels, North America thinks that the focus cannot only be getting to net zero, or self-generating enough energy through solar, wind or other renewable technologies to power a building’s needs; he believes that the future of modern construction lies in ‘energy positive’ buildings.

Energy positive buildings are buildings that generate more energy than they consume in their entire lifecycle. For a building to be energy positive, the design must take into account every building stage, from transport of materials and construction machinery to production, and even its eventual demolition. However, there can sometimes be a misconception in the industry about the degree of difficulty in producing energy positive buildings.

Trenga observes that there is occasionally a tendency to look at a standard building, which represents 90 per cent of the industry’s building stock with huge energy demand, and think about offsetting that energy consumption. He explains that the focus should be on ultra, high-performance optimised buildings that minimise energy consumption with features such as natural ventilation and natural daylight. Combined with on-site renewables in these buildings, one can achieve the coveted energy positive status.

Energy positive buildings need to be framed in a realistic way. For example, a dense, urban environment may not offer enough space to implement some of the design elements seen in current energy positive buildings. Calling for a practical approach to this new way of building, Trenga says the typology limits the ability for certain building types. For example, it would be hard to achieve a net positive hospital because their energy demand is so intense. The lower the Energy Use Intensity (EUI) rating, the closer you are to zero. By creating very efficient systems and operating the building at a very low energy demand, net positive is possible.

Trenga believes that taking on the challenge of energy positive buildings is a step in the right direction.

"A lot more people are taking the steps to achieve these things and are willing to take the challenge. Even if you fail, these are great things to fail at. Missing the target is so much better than what you would have done if you hadn’t taken the challenge or without going down that road."