Urgent Need for Collaboration, Better Data and Massive Action to Reduce Carbon Emissions in Buildings


In The News:

We need to pivot from talking and thinking to taking decisive, data-driven actions that show measurable outcomes if we want to reduce residential emissions and meet our net-zero targets.

In John Doerr’s must-read book Measure What Matters, he outlines a methodology he learned from Andy Grove at Intel, which Doerr also helped put into practice at Google. The methodology is called ‘objectives and key results,’ or OKRs.

Doerr states “I’m going to be direct: Many of us are setting goals wrong. In the most egregious cases, we’re not setting goals at all. I’ve seen it time and time again. When companies set the right objectives for the right reasons, they succeed. When they push forward without direction, they lose their way and eventually fail. What really makes a difference: how and why you must set meaningful and audacious goals. In our view, goals come in two pieces, [OKRs]. Objectives are the ‘what.’ They describe the path forward, the place you want to be.”

In our experience, the public and private sectors, NGOs and a majority of Canadians, all collectively want to see an outcome of reduced carbon in Canada. It is a complex space, and these targets are really ambitious. When it comes to energy efficiency and carbon reduction in the residential sector, do industry actors, government agencies and NGOs have the right OKRs to hit those targets? Are we on the same roadmap? Is it possible that through a collaborative strategy of smart people across sectors working together with an OKR roadmap, we can get there faster and more effectively with time-based and data-driven proof to make sure we are staying on the right path?

What is the urgency and the opportunity? For one, Canada’s residential sector accounts for 18.8 percent of our GHG emissions, and Canada’s is one of the highest per capita GHG emitters in the G20. We can and we must move now to solve this problem.

In their report Canada’s Climate Retrofit Mission for Efficiency Canada, report authors Brendan Haley and Ralph Torrie state: “The current pace and performance of building retrofits is far below the scenarios considered in the report to confront the climate emergency. The market for building retrofits is not structured to achieve economies of scale and promote learning dynamics.”

Like many others who have chosen to focus their careers on the ambitious and complex task of net-zero carbon reductions, we believe this moment is a tremendous opportunity for banks, cities, federal and provincial governments, technology startups, and NGOs to solve this problem collectively and quickly. And the key words here are leadership, velocity and sharing knowledge. We do not have time to debate and figure out how to do this – we know how, we have the data. We need to act now together, and no pun intended, with more efficiency. That does not mean that we do not recognize risk and develop a risk mitigation strategy, but we must flow forward.

Why? Because at our current pace, we won’t put a dent in the emissions 17 million residential homes in Canada to get to net-zero by 2030. We must act strategically and boldly by having data-driven approaches to target the houses and homeowners we can persuade and convert, and with that, we can shape this path cost-effectively and transparently. Why would we lower our targets when the money is there to support efficiency programs? Is it because we are unclear on the true costs?

Understanding Our Carbon Targets: The Utility Data Problem

A key element of managing an outcome is to measure it. One thing that is difficult to do today in Canada is realistically measure carbon at the household level. Most utilities provide this to third parties at a community level, not a household level.

The utility reasons for providing energy data includes privacy, commercial competition and complex IT system risk. In BC, municipalities have the Community Energy and Emissions Inventory (CEEI), consisting of data provided at the scale of the city or regional district. In other provinces, the National Energy End Database (NEUD) provided provincial scale data, not household data.

It is a bit like answering the question: how do you eat an elephant? You start with the first bite. Human psychology is such that if a goal is overwhelming and you cannot measure it, it is an exhausting and unrealistic exercise. If you need to lose 40 kilograms of weight, you do it step by step. For home energy retrofits, we need realistic steps and milestones, driven by transparent data, not just one large and potentially vague number to achieve. Each homeowner should ultimately know the carbon their home has, so they can take actions to do something about it.

Outcomes and Key Results

It’s one thing to know what high-level carbon emissions are, but without understanding where that carbon resides in each house, it’s the difference between an expensive “spray and pray” approach versus a targeted cost-effective campaign to target the “hot” and “very hot” carbon homes. Data gives you that in every other business. We can use it here.

About Lightspark’s Efforts Towards These Outcomes

A big challenge Lightspark has been looking to solve with its EfficiencyAI carbon mapping software —using machine learning and other open and proprietary data — is to predict carbon at the household level. In most cities across Canada, as we mentioned, most utilities do not provide household-level energy data to third parties like governments, cities, banks and technology companies. Therefore it’s very difficult to predict how much carbon needs to be reduced, and how much carbon each home produces. Lightspark’s EfficiencyAI predicts the carbon and energy model for homes in over 16 cities.

Lightspark’s EfficiencyAI is a program design engine that can determine the very hot, hot, and medium carbon households to target for carbon reduction through retrofits at scale. We can measure the energy and carbon intensity of those homes in their current state. We can then provide cost-optimized retrofit bundles for meeting budgets for low-, medium- and high-income households. Lightspark has created the data and provided this analysis for 16 cities across Canada. And our mission is to do this in the most cost-effective and targeted way to reduce administration costs, and provide self-service tools for consumers that are easily maintained by program administrators. We can also let you know what the program administrator cost is in terms of dollars per tonne of carbon, taking into account the incentive, loan, administrative and other operational costs.

Our tools take the guessing away from running a retrofit program to give you the confidence to make educated decisions as you gain data on demand. See our carbon and energy map that every city client received in action in the video linked below.

To learn about Lightspark’s products, please contact James directly.