Apple Park, California

Will 100 per cent renewable energy soon be standard for commercial buildings?

Apple Park, pictured above, opened in California this year, boasting one of the world's largest on-site solar farms, housing up to 14,200 employees and utilising 100 per cent renewable energy. As new, state-of-the-art developments strive to be, as Apple puts it 'powered by renewable energy', how close are we to seeing all buildings being powered by 100 per cent renewable energy within the UK? And how are building owners achieving this shift?

For this question to be answered we need to consider the two differing ways buildings can obtain green energy. Firstly, on-site renewables: on projects like Apple’s new HQ there may be sufficient space to provide enough renewable technology to meet the building’s power requirements. Secondly, off-site renewables, where building owners utilise external sources of renewable energy to meet their  requirements.

Although the application of on-site renewables continues to grow, with commercial new builds seeing continued installation of these technologies during the construction phases, one of the important shifts for owners of existing properties over the years has been the application of green tariffs.  

A green tariff is simply energy bought from a supplier who has sourced this from a type of off-site renewable source. This could typically be made up of a mix of solar, wind, hydro and biomass, for example. In the past, such tariffs had a slightly negative association as the quality of the energy source was not consistency assured. However, this has improved in recent years as the market has matured and, in June 2017, renewable energy generation hit peaks which exceeded more than 50 per cent of power demand for the first time, according to the National Grid..

Lately, we’ve observed several of our clients with large property portfolios starting to apply a 100 per cent renewable option for their properties. Some have signed up to 'RE100', a group of influential businesses committed to renewable energy.

The good news for all building owners is that their carbon performance has been helped by reductions in the UK’s average emission factor for electricity. In other words, producing electricity now generates fewer emissions than it used to. This is in part because property owners are buying more renewable energy, driving up demand for sustainable energy producers and improving the UK’s energy mix.

So will 100 per cent renewable sources soon be standard for commercial buildings? It seems unlikely that on-site solutions such as those applied at Apple Park will be common within the short term. However, the up-take of green tariffs will become more mainstream – a trend that will continue to be accentuated as some green tariff options become more competitive in price as demand increases.  

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