Designing Sustainable Electrical Systems with Energy Modelling

August 17, 2022

By: Anca Cojocaru, P.Eng., LEED AP

As new construction and existing buildings are being designed to be more sustainable and energy efficient than ever before, the need for modern, net-zero electrical systems has significantly increased. The construction industry contributes significantly to global emissions and the international use of finite resources, such as water and the energy required to build and operate new and existing infrastructure. Although there are challenges in adopting a sustainable approach to design and construction, advances in technology, engineering and building design allow for new possibilities in reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. In addition, energy output and overall carbon footprint can also be mitigated with technological advances and improved methods when developing new infrastructure and improving existing buildings.

Reducing Energy Consumption of Electrical Systems

Various electrical systems within a building consume energy, such as the lighting layout design, electrical equipment, and mechanical equipment. Large transformers and power for electrical vehicle (EV) charging stations have a significant impact on the power distribution of a building. They can increase a structure’s overall energy and emission output. Providing electrical or renewable power sources while designing buildings is a strategy used to reduce the impact on a power distribution system and increase sustainability. Reducing the lighting density of a building to target or below ASHRAE guidelines provides an opportunity to reduce energy use and operating costs. In addition, including the use of LED energy-efficient lighting in electrical designs not only reduces a building’s power consumption, but lowers maintenance and operating costs, improves safety by lowering the heat emission from a lighting system, and provides the ability to operate on low-voltage electrical systems.

Using Energy Modelling to Design Sustainable Electrical Systems

Energy Modelling is an excellent tool to increase the sustainability of new construction and retrofit design used for various exercises. Commercial and industrial buildings often require large and complex electrical and mechanical systems that use significantly more energy than buildings of a smaller size. Developing an energy model for new infrastructure or when retrofitting an existing structure at the beginning of the design process provides key calculations that electrical engineers use to meet targets and provide a guideline to lead the design. Energy models provide an opportunity for design teams to collaborate and discover innovative approaches to the most efficient and environmentally responsible design possible.

Meeting Sustainability Targets and Green Initiatives

Several initiatives have been established across Canada with the common goal of mitigating the risks associated with climate change and decreasing energy use throughout the country. Some examples include Vancouver’s Zero Waste 2040 Strategic Plan and Climate Emergency Action Plan in British Columbia, as well as the requirement to comply with the National Energy Code for Buildings (NECB) to achieve net-zero energy-ready buildings by 2030. Buildings are now often targeting various green certifications, such as WELL or LEED certification for new construction and BOMA BEST for existing buildings.

Williams Engineering (WE) often provides electrical designs for projects to meet LEED requirements, regardless of the project targeting LEED certification after construction is complete. We employ a strong group of sustainability-focused designers that approach each design intending to reduce energy consumption, lower emissions and provide net-zero options to achieve optimal building performance. Our integrated approach to energy modelling and sustainability allows for a collaborative and innovative design solution to be reached in addition to increased energy efficiency, reduced cost, and more comfortable buildings for our communities to enjoy.