The notion of “zero carbon” is often interchanged with Zero Net Carbon (ZNC), a popular industry term usually associated with an offsetting strategy. The concept of zero carbon is different, though: It implies that zero means zero, and it sets the expectation that companies will eliminate their emissions altogether, not simply compensate for those emissions elsewhere. A growing number of life science companies have adopted a zero carbon objective as part of their strategy to align with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal #13, “Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.”
Corporate responsibility isn’t the only motivator, though. And that’s what makes this revolution especially interesting: Today’s shift toward zero carbon design is also driven by plain, old-fashioned business sense. Because the cost of fossil fuels is rising, relying on renewable energy sources is becoming a more affordable, accessible and reliable option—and it’s even codified into law, in some regions. As these scales tip, companies that rely on non-renewable energy will soon face a difficult choice: change now or face declining profits.
We’ve written this article for biotech companies interested in migrating toward zero carbon facilities and operations. The journey to sustainability may be complex, but the destination is relatively simple:
- Apply best design and construction practices.
- Remove all fossil fuels as a primary fuel source.
- Provide on-site renewable energy with time-of-use energy storage strategies.
- Consume 100% renewable grid electricity.
You have several promising sustainable energy solutions at your disposal to help you meet these objectives, with more emerging all the time. Understanding which ones are best suited to your unique situation and developing a responsible and cost-effective site utilities master plan requires the combined expertise of a diverse and experienced team. As part of such a team, we’re here to help you get started by exploring three of the chief considerations we hear from clients during the initial planning stage of an innovative zero carbon project.
Top considerations when planning a zero carbon project
1. Can I afford a zero carbon project?
The economics of energy consumption are undergoing a major shift, driven by a growing movement to address the climate crisis through better technologies and targeted, proactive financial incentives. Some regions of the country have already reached an inflection point at which fossil fuels and renewable energy have swapped their traditional places, economically: sustainable energy is more affordable, natural gas less so. No one knows exactly how this will play out in the long term, but it’s becoming clear that the cost of non-renewable energy will continue to rise, which in turn will motivate more companies to invest in facilities designed for renewable alternatives.
Meanwhile, certain forward-thinking city leaders and lawmakers are working fast to make this question of affordability moot. In 2019, Carlsbad became the first city in California to pass an ordinance limiting natural gas in new construction projects. As of late 2021, more than 50 Californian cities and counties are considering similar ordinances, and 49 have formally committed to eliminating gas and pushing for all-electric designs for new construction projects.
This movement to incentivize renewable energy through financial and legal pathways is growing across the country. We can see this in the growing popularity of Community Choice Aggregate (CCA) legislation, which allows cities or counties to buy their electricity in bulk from a private-sector provider. CCA initiatives help to reduce the overall cost of powering a community, and they give local governments the opportunity to dramatically reduce their carbon footprint by supporting clean energy providers in the private sector. Ten states have adopted CCA legislation so far, with many more actively investigating it.