Visualizing carbon emissions in buildings

Greenhouse gases are invisible to the naked eye. This lack of visual evidence makes greenhouse gas emissions difficult to comprehend as a root of a problem. In the US, buildings and construction are energy-intensive sectors that contribute to as much as 50% of greenhouse gas emissions.

But now you can see GHG emissions from buildings, at least through your computer.

Carbon Visuals developed 3d visualization tool using graphs superimposed on Google Earth to show the GHG emissions of commercial buildings. The graphs’ data were collected from UK Display Energy Certificate which represent the buildings’ energy ratings. After coding the data, they are displayed in 3D in Google Earth, a navigable web-based model of the world.

The technology may deem useful in monitoring stationary sources of greenhouse gas emissions such as buildings. It creates an energy ‘dashboard’ for consumers- in this case, building tenants- which enable them to monitor their energy usage a part of which goes to waste from idle computers or lights left turned on 24/7. According to the Carbon Visual website, the visualization of carbon dioxide “allows comparison with other comparable buildings at the same time as providing a sense of scale of emissions from buildings as a whole”.

However, the visualizer also presents challenges. The accuracy of the graph is only as good as the information submitted. This can be remedied by independent energy auditing, but not without incurring additional costs.

Other ways local governments can leverage on this technology is to create a “race to the bottom” competition for buildings with comparable GHG emissions. This can be more powerful (and entertaining) if the graphs show the amount of emissions in real-time. The technology can also raise the accountability of building managers to reduce their GHG emissions through more energy efficient systems. 

With reliable data and the right tools, applying technology holds promise in monitoring GHG emissions. The visual representation of GHG can be an effective way to send a clear message of a culture of excess and even waste, and nudge decision-makers to act on them. As the saying goes, to see is to believe.

Image courtesy of Environment Green, Source: Carbon Visuals

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