Earth Day pop quiz: what is Toronto’s largest source of greenhouse gas emissions?
If you said transportation, you’re on the right track – cars and trucks are responsible for 41 per cent of local emissions.
But even larger – 48 per cent based on the City of Toronto’s most recent Greenhouse Gas Inventory – is the energy used in homes and buildings.
For bonus points: what’s the fastest and most cost-effective way to achieve Toronto’s ambitious climate protection target – an 80 per cent reduction in emissions by the year 2050? Improving the energy efficiency of our buildings.
On the new construction side, Toronto has some excellent examples of green buildings.
But given the development boom, every new building must be held to stringent standards of energy performance or they will waste energy for decades to come.
The City’s Toronto Green Standard 9established in 2010 and updated in 2014) already requires better energy performance in new buildings than the provincial building code. New buildings will soon need to be designed and built to a “net-zero” standard, meaning they will have to generate as much (or more) energy than they consume.
Getting new construction right is important, but most of the buildings Toronto will have in 2050 already exist, and they were built with very little regard for energy performance. That adds up to a whole lot of unnecessary emissions.
The solution is accelerated retrofits of existing buildings, but we are hampered by relatively low energy prices – in Toronto we pay less than half for gas and electricity than they do in Japan, Germany or the United Kingdom – and low investor confidence in energy retrofits.
Every year, Torontonians spend $4.7 billion on energy, and most of those dollars flow out of the city. Energy efficiency retrofits create good local jobs and the money saved can be re-directed to local spending, giving the Toronto economy a boost.
Retrofits are seen as an excellent impact investment opportunity – generating a double-bottom line of profit and environmental benefits.
Toronto Atmospheric Fund (TAF) has been working with large building owners to design a new financing tool that addresses the barriers to investing in retrofits. This model is now being scaled up by a new private financing company, Efficiency Capital Corporation, incubated here in Toronto.
Another innovative financing approach for building retrofits is offered by the City of Toronto. The Home Energy Loan Program (HELP) and Hi-RIS program provide single-family and high-rise building owners with low-cost loans.
Based on the old adage that you don’t manage what you don’t measure, Toronto is also developing a new By-law requiring large buildings to report their energy and water consumption annually. A proposal, modelled after New York and other large US cities where similar bylaws are already in place, is expected at Council this summer.
The provincial government is also considering a new Ontario-wide regulation. Its recently-announced carbon pricing scheme is a welcome development. But it’s important to get the details right. For buildings, the key is making sure the cap covers the natural gas used for heating.
Once we get a local retrofit blitz really going, the benefits will be significant.
Julia Langer is CEO of the Toronto Atmospheric Fund