Net-Zero for Buildings is a Big Plus for Energy Efficiency

Net Zero Building

ZNE, EO, NZEB, GBRI…Don’t we love acronyms? In the building design and construction industry there is an endless supply of them, and eventually they roll off the tongue of architects, engineers, and construction managers like water rushing downstream after a rainfall. Two of the energy acronyms related to sustainability that are heard more frequently today are NZRB and EO, though both have been around a while. But let’s back up a bit and start at the beginning.

ZNE is the acronym for Zero Net Energy, while NZEB stand for Net-Zero Energy Building. They refer to the same concept. EOs are Presidential Executive Orders, and 13123, 13423 and 13514 are concerned with energy efficiency and green buildings at the federal government level. The story begins with EO 13123 issued in 1999 and titled Greening the Government Through Efficient Energy Management. The main requirement was that each Federal agency reduce greenhouse gas emissions resulting from building energy use by at least 30 percent by the year 2010, using 1990 as the base year. It also required specific improvements in energy efficiency, committed to solar energy systems, and called for water conservation.

The Story Continues…

EO 13423 was issued in 2007 and is called Strengthening Federal Environmental, Energy, and Transportation Management. This order set new green goals that extend to the year 2015 for federal agencies. The order blends and strengthens a number of EOs issued between 1998 and 2000 that address sustainable practices. It set goals for energy efficiency, renewable power, building performance, water conservation, vehicles, petroleum conservation, alternative fuel, pollution prevention, procurement, and electronics management.

Whew…in typical government fashion, each EO becomes more thorough, in-depth, and stringent. But that is not the end of the story. EO 13514 was then issued in 2009 and was titled Federal Leadership in Environmental, Energy and Economic Performance. This Order goes even further in requiring agencies to reduce energy and water intensity, improve waste diversion, enhance local planning and environmental management, and improve electronics stewardship. The goals were extended to the year 2020.

That brings us to the concept of net-zero energy buildings. Imagine a building that uses no energy…none. In the purest sense, a zero-net-energy or net-zero building (depending on your favorite acronym) produces as much energy as it uses, and just maybe, in some cases it will produce even more. If that sounds like a concept from fantasy land, then you may be surprised to know that such innovative, futuristic buildings already exist.

For example, the Environmental Tech Center at Sonoma State University and the Audubon Center at Debs Park are net-zero buildings. In fact not only are there net-zero commercial buildings, but the residential building market has joined the party. California, always trying to be a leader, requires that new homes meet net-zero standards by the year 2020 and newly built offices by 2030. Net-zero is achieved with features like rooftop solar panels, plenty of super-insulated windows to reduce dependence on artificial light, and energy efficient tankless water heaters.

There’s Always a Catch…

However wonderful net-zero sounds, there is one catch that building designers must be aware of and try to compensate for as much as possible. Do you want a hint? Okay…here it is: occupant behaviors. That is the only hint you get.

To find out more, attend the GBRI live webinar on May 29, 2013 at 3:00 PM Eastern or listen to the on demand version beginning May 31. All will be revealed about energy efficiency related Executive Orders and net-zero energy building. It is the head start you need on the future of commercial and residential building.

Do you think requiring net-zero building practices is reasonable and will establish achievable goals.

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