Skip main navigation

Renewables and offsets

This article explore the concepts of renewables and offsets.
Two technicians in distance discussing between long rows of photovoltaic panels. Alternative energy source, ecology and carbon footprint reduction concept

Renewable Energy

The UN defines renewable energy as ‘energy derived from natural sources that are replenished at a higher rate than they are consumed. Sunlight and wind, for example, are such sources that are constantly being replenished. Renewable energy sources are plentiful and all around us’.

Fossil fuels such as coal and gas on the other hand, are not renewable and take millions of years to be formed. Fossil fuels also contribute to greenhouse gas emissions when burned to create energy. Renewable energy on in contrast produces far lower emissions than fossil fuels.

Some common types of renewable energy include:

  • Wind: Wind energy is one of the oldest forms of renewable energy (it has been around for millenia!). Nowadays technologies have improved to generate electricity in more efficient ways, such as through taller turbines.
  • Solar: Solar technologies convert sunlight into electrical energy through the use of photovoltaic panels, or with mirrors that concentrate solar radiation. Due to the rapid decrease in costs more recently, solar is actually one of the most affordable forms of electricity.
  • Heat in the air, ground or water: Thermal energy in the environment is naturally replenished. This can include in the air, ground, or bodies of water such as rivers, lakes, and the sea. Even when they are below 0°C, there is still thermal energy which can be captured, and technologies such as air, water or ground source heat pumps can ‘uplift’ this low grade heat to be used for heating radiators or hot water for buildings at high efficiencies.

Some of these forms of renewable energy can be generated directly on site of buildings. For example, solar panels or small scale wind turbines can be installed on building exteriors. Check out these beautiful examples here. Alternatively, the energy fed into the building can be provided by a renewable energy provider with a high quality green tariff.

Don’t forget about using renewable energy during all stages of the building construction (transport, machinery etc.) – and not just within the final building – can drastically reduce embodied carbon.

If you want to find out more about procuring renewable energy for building projects and UKGBC’s guide on this, check out the UKGBC Renewable Energy Procurement Guidance.

Carbon Offsets

Carbon offsetting is a process that involves a reduction or removal of emissions from the atmosphere to compensate for emissions that are made elsewhere. It generally involves companies paying other entities to reduce the emissions that they can’t currently reduce themselves, often through the form of purchasing verified ‘carbon credits’.

Examples of carbon offsetting projects include tree planting, renewable energy development, and the capture and destruction of greenhouse gases. Carbon offsetting often faces criticism regarding its quality and effectiveness. Therefore, if carbon offsetting is deemed necessary, it is crucial to select responsible offsets and only after exhausting all other efforts towards decarbonisation.

Providing that all efforts have been made to minimise carbon emissions, then responsible carbon offsetting can play an important role in helping buildings and organisations become net zero carbon.

As well as compensating for remaining emissions, responsible carbon offsetting can also produce both social and environmental benefits. Responsible carbon offsetting can be used to drive positive change such as by restoring ecosystems, promoting social equity, or sponsoring development of renewable energy.

UKGBC’s Offsetting and Carbon Pricing Guidance provides comprehensive guidance on voluntary carbon offsetting and pricing strategies that are specifically tailored for built assets (both new and existing) and to better equip those who purchase offsets or make investment decisions at building asset or organisational level to align with their climate goals and accelerate the wider transition of net zero.

This article is from the free online

An Introduction to Climate Change and Carbon Reduction in the Built Environment

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Reach your personal and professional goals

Unlock access to hundreds of expert online courses and degrees from top universities and educators to gain accredited qualifications and professional CV-building certificates.

Join over 18 million learners to launch, switch or build upon your career, all at your own pace, across a wide range of topic areas.

Start Learning now