Concordia Public Scholar Mostafa Saad is helping decarbonize the built environment
As the world increasingly turns its attention to reducing carbon emissions and fighting climate change, one crucial area that often goes overlooked is the built environment. From skyscrapers to single-family homes, buildings account for a significant portion of global energy consumption and greenhouse-gas emissions.
According to Concordia Public Scholar Mostafa Saad, we can reduce our environmental impact by implementing a variety of strategies to decarbonize existing buildings, from energy-efficient renovations to integrating renewable energy systems.
The doctoral student in building engineering is currently studying how to create building energy retrofit models that are faster and more accessible to building owners. He’s developing a data-driven approach that predicts the effects of changes made to buildings, which can result in faster assessment processes.
Saad, who is also a member of Concordia’s Next-Generation Cities Institute, has already put some of his research into practice with Montreal real estate developer Gestion Immobilière Quo Vadis. Because of his work, the GI Quo Vadis property Complexe Dompark earned a Zero Carbon Building Standards Certification from the Canada Green Building Council in April 2022.
Saad will explore the obstacles related to decarbonizing buildings and unpack the ways academia and the private sector can collaborate to address them at a panel discussion, Decarbonizing Canadian Buildings: Opportunities and Obstacles, at Concordia’s 4TH SPACE on February 8 from 1 to 2:30 p.m.
‘We need to do much more at a much faster pace to decarbonize our buildings and our infrastructure’
What got you interested in studying how to improve building energy models?
Mostafa Saad: I have always been interested in the quantitative side of buildings. The question that came to mind was how people used to live without any mechanical interference in their buildings. In the past, we didn’t have HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) systems. We didn’t have fans. People used to use buildings with no mechanical system involvements. So the architecture and the building itself was designed in such a way that it could provide indoor thermal comfort inside and be very efficient.
That’s what initially sparked my interest in passive building design and how buildings can be designed and simulated considering more than just aesthetics. I eventually got more interested in how to integrate the energy performance of a building during the design process as an essential KPI (key performance indicator).
What are some examples of ways we can decarbonize buildings?
MS: There are two parts to decarbonizing a building. First, we have to figure out how to lower the building’s operational carbon and energy consumption. We can do that by improving the building’s enclosures — the barrier that separates the exterior environment from the interior environment — changing the way the building is operated or by using better materials.
But when we’re making these decisions, we also have to pay attention to what we are replacing these components with. For example, let’s say I decide to increase the thermal mass of a building by pouring in a wall of concrete. Concrete is highly carbon emissive. I’m probably going to reduce the building’s energy consumption, but I have produced a lot of carbon emissions in the process. So we must be very careful and choose materials that are less carbon emissive, like local materials or carbon-neutral materials.
We also have to think about the building’s energy source. Natural gas is very highly emissive in carbon. We need to figure out how to electrify our buildings or integrate renewable-energy sources into our buildings.
What are some of the challenges of improving the energy efficiency of a building?
MS: The main challenge is the financial side of things. Residential, commercial, institutional and industrial buildings all face a financial challenge due to the high investment cost of building renovation and clean energy.
Another challenge is a lack of regulations that can speed up the process. In Montreal, buildings need to transition from fossil fuel–based power to exclusively renewable energy by 2040. But at the same time, the rate of retrofitting buildings is only around one per cent per year now. So we’re not meeting those targets fast enough. We need to facilitate the process so that it’s quicker.
Lastly, there’s the challenge of engaging building users and other people involved with the buildings. How can they communicate and collaborate to improve the energy efficiency of the building?
Overall, we’re progressing right now, but we need to do much more to decarbonize our buildings and economy, at a much faster pace.
Learn more about Concordia’s Public Scholar Program.
Join the panel discussion event, Decarbonizing Canadian Buildings: Opportunities and Obstacles, at 4TH SPACE (1400 De Maisonneuve Blvd. W.) or watch online on February 8, 1 to 2:30 p.m.