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The race for climate-friendly office buildings has started

The race for climate-friendly office buildings has started

It can rightly be referred to as a monster job. As of the 1st of January 2023, all office buildings in the Netherlands must at least have an energy label C. There are thousands of premises with an office function that have not yet obtained this label. Iv-Bouw provides advice to organisations in this regard but takes it further where possible. “We must limit the burden of fossil fuels on the earth as much as possible,” says Michiel Flikkema, Sustainable Energy Consultant at Iv-Bouw.

As a government, you can impose sanctions if office spaces do not satisfy the requirements.

The Netherlands must be energy neutral by 2050. This means that all energy used will be derived from renewable sources and therefore CO2 neutral. The deadline of the 1st of January 2023 to provide all office buildings with an energy label C is an initial step, but certainly not a small one. Iv-Bouw currently provides advice for (semi) government buildings such as those belonging to the Directorate-General for Public Works and Water Management, various water boards and provinces currently in this transition. However, many buildings do not yet meet the conditions of the energy label C, so there is intense pressure for these organisations to act promptly. 

Michiel Flikkema, in his position as a Sustainable Energy Consultant at Iv-Bouw, is actively dealing with these issues. The most important question: what must an office building do to retain its function after the 1st of January 2023? “Stakeholders are very concerned about this,” says Michiel. “I assist them with customised advice about energy, and we conduct research into the condition of the building. But also, for the installations: how well and smartly are these used to condition the building?”

Ventilation systems, solar panels, and whether or not a Heat and Cold Storage (ATES) installation is present are all factors that make an enormous difference in the path to achieving an energy-neutral building. But Michiel also includes more minor elements in his advice, such as LED lighting and insulation. The current conclusion is that there are plenty of buildings that already have an energy label C pinned on the front door. But this number is not yet in the thousands, even though it will be a top requirement to be permitted to remain open if it is up to the Dutch government. 

"What is the true state of a building?"

Michiel does not dare to predict the extent to which this will become a reality, nor does he foresee a definitive closure of all business premises that fail to meet this deadline. “That would have too many consequences. But as a government, you can impose sanctions if office spaces do not satisfy the requirements.”

The race for more climate-friendly office buildings already received an extra push from the government in 2014, a year before the Paris Climate Agreement was signed. Government supervision of the assessment of energy performance has been considerably tightened. Only certified organisations with qualified, skilled energy consultants may conduct these energy assessments. Michiel Flikkema may do this on behalf of Iv-Bouw.

According to Michiel, this tightening up of the requirements is a good development, and not only for Iv-Bouw. “Over time, everyone was calling themselves an energy consultant. The government discovered this was getting out of hand and was leading to unsound advice. It is, therefore, a positive development that a stop has been put to that. In addition, our calculations are quality tested by an external certifying body (CI). And there are mandatory national exams with which you can demonstrate your professional competence.”

In other words: the stricter guidelines for assessments should ultimately result in high-quality energy performance calculations and the appropriate actions to arrive at the desired energy label. “Buildings and premises are required to be assessed by an energy consultant,” Michiel continues. “What is the true state of a building? Assumptions are not enough to provide an answer; you need to compile a file with photos and verifiable evidence.” An essential bar against which the energy performance of an (office) building is measured is the so-called ‘Trias Energetica’: a three-step strategy for creating energy-efficient designs. 

We no longer look to the ground for solutions, but instead, upwards; to our most important source of energy: the sun.

The national determination method NTA 8800: the new bible for the energy performance calculations, is applied in the energy assessments and is necessary to course this part of the energy transition. First, we examine the situation for counteracting and limiting energy consumption through compact building shapes and insulation of the building’s exterior envelope, such as facades, roofs, and floors.

The second step is to use (fossil) energy sources as efficiently as possible to meet the remaining energy needs. This includes the use of heat pumps or low-temperature heating. Finally, the maximum use of sustainable energy sources, such as wind, water and solar energy.Within these types of projects, Iv-Bouw takes it much further than just checking whether a building can meet energy label C and the necessary adjustments to achieve this. In 2030, these same buildings will no longer be required to satisfy energy label C but energy label A. In short: the work is far from over after the 1st of January next year.

“This is perhaps the most interesting thing about these types of projects,” says Michiel. “Especially because every building is unique. Where possible, we provide advice to improve the label, which is something from which everyone will benefit.” As far as Michiel is concerned, it is not just a ‘must’ for organisations and companies to comply with an energy label because it is suddenly necessary due to the Climate Agreement and government policy from The Hague. But instead, there is an urgent message lurking in the shadows. The raw materials are running out and it is nothing short of an absolute must to have energy-efficient buildings.

“Since the industrial revolution, we have long believed that everything can be extracted from the earth,” he continues. “Minerals that the earth has taken billions of years to form. However, we no longer look to the ground for solutions, but instead, upwards; to our most important source of energy: the sun.” Natural energy sources will become even more critical in the coming years, Michiel is convinced. Hydrogen will play a crucial role, especially because wind and solar energy carry limitations. The wind does not always blow hard enough, nor does the sun shine 365 days a year. And currently, it is hardly possible to store such energy, except in a car and on a bicycle. The result is that we are always left with surpluses and shortages.  

Sustainability in itself is not a goal, but it supports a healthier habitat for generations to come. We are fully aware of this.

Hydrogen has the property that it is also transportable and can be stored. If it is up to Michiel, the transformation of office buildings to energy label A will also depend on this. “Relatively small interventions are often sufficient to obtain energy label C. However, the greater challenge is how we achieve energy label A. The conversion efficiency of hydrogen with electricity is still low, but the technology is improving rapidly. So where oil tankers currently sail the seas, we will also increasingly see hydrogen tankers in the coming years.”

In short: the migration to low-energy or even energy-neutral buildings is a good development. “But the transition involves so much more. And I have the feeling that we, also within the whole of the Iv-Groep, are fully aware of this. Sustainability in itself is not a goal, but it supports a healthier habitat for generations to come. The wonderful thing about these projects is that we can really contribute to the greater goal.”