Alicia Silva
Director General and Founder
Revitaliza Consultores

Historic Buildings Given a New Green Life

Wed, 02/24/2016 - 16:18

Wandering down the streets of Mexico City’s historical center you will find buildings erected and scarred by the tumultuous history of the country, from the buried relics of the Aztec empire to the palaces of colonial power. It is precisely these historic jewels and existing buildings that could benefit the most from today’s technologies. Alicia Silva, Director General and Founder of Revitaliza Consultores, and Santiago Rodríguez, Director of Energy Efficiency of the same consulting firm, both agree that the market segment that must capitalize on energy efficiency practices is existing buildings. “There is a lot of confusion in this particular sector, since many potential customers view this new technology as too expensive; however, they must realize the enormous potential and energy savings it brings,” Silva points out.

For Silva, the buildings in Mexico are built to last and usually they have durable structures that can be renovated with energy efficient technologies. The benefit of upgrading current sites over demolition and reconstruction is that less money is spent upgrading the system. Silva offers an example, “We ran the ROI cycle in a project in Queretaro where the customer had an existing building and wanted to add an extra story. We discovered that working with the existing structure rather than starting from scratch would be more efficient.” Huge potential has been identified in the area of heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC), and a boom is beginning to be seen in the renovation of old buildings with new equipment, where energy savings are significant. “We have seen, for instance, that many old buildings have R22 refrigerants, which are bad for the environment, and are banned in Europe and the US. Mexico is to follow suit in banning this particular equipment, so the companies buying these systems can only use them temporarily and the equipment will have to be replaced in the short term,” Silva explains. For her, complying with higher standards is necessary, since the client will not only save in energy consumption, but the equipment will also last for longer

Offering the most advanced tools for designing sustainable buildings is at the core of Revitaliza Consultores. One of these is energy modelling, where a 3D model of the building is created and a thermodynamic simulation performed to estimate with precision how much energy the design will consume and how it will be distributed. This enables the client to assess different designs of the building in order to identify the most efficient. “The first advantage is obvious; it is cheaper and prevents making adjustments during the construction period. It shows clients how energy efficiency measures will impact their operations and it is a tool that can spell out how much a client saves per solution applied to the design,” Rodríguez comments. Silva adds that for existing buildings, the firm also carries out energy audits using the ASHRAE standards. “It is a process in which we review the whole building from the maintenance and operation processes to the actual construction. We use a platform from the EPA called Portfolio Manager, where the client can benchmark its building against others in similar categories.” Unfortunately, in Silva’s eyes, Mexico has lagged behind in terms of normativity. “We have the NOM-008-ENER-2001, which is related to energy efficiency for non-residential buildings. This norm has seen some improvements, but will be difficult to enforce over the long term. We also have programs such as the PECES, but it is inherently inefficient,” she laments. Some organizations have made progress in setting out a national certificate, yet Silva opposes these initiatives and deems them unnecessary. “When you tropicalize processes, you make them easily corruptible. It is better and far more transparent to opt for international standards, since they will provide increased credibility levels to the customers.”

In Silva’s experience, the human element plays an important part in existing buildings in terms of efficiency, and if people participate, energy savings of up to 30% can be obtained. The sector that is leading the way in the sustainability market is corporate buildings, and the manufacturing industry is beginning to understand that energy is essential for its survival. Despite common misconceptions and regulatory shortcomings, the government is beginning to adopt a greener mindset. “The issue does not lie in the unwillingness of the government, but rather the lack of knowledge in certain segments. People in general are eager to adopt sustainability and become green, since they feel they are making a difference,” Silva declares.