Most of us have heard the term Net Zero before, but what does it mean? Net Zero in the Building Industry can apply to waste, water, or energy. Today, we are highlighting some facts you may not know regarding energy consumption in the buildings you occupy and why Net Zero Energy Buildings may be the answer.

What does Net Zero mean?

Net Zero Energy Buildings (NZEB) produce at least as much energy as they consume over the course of a year. Typically, Net Zero Buildings are connected to the power grid in order to draw energy when demand is high and supply is low (i.e. solar panels covered with snow on a cloudy, cold winter day with high heat demand), and to transfer surplus power from renewable, on-site energy systems (i.e. solar, wind, geothermal, biomass, hydro) back to the grid.

Why do we need Net Zero?

Let’s look at the facts:

  • Buildings consume 41% of our world’s energy (primarily with fossil fuels)
  • Buildings consume 74% of electricity in the United States
  • Buildings are responsible for 39% of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions (NIST, 2016)

Now imagine if:

  • Buildings consume <1% of our world’s energy fossil fuels (i.e. limited use as gas cooktop)
  • Buildings produce 100% of their energy needs via passive and renewable sources
  • Buildings are responsible for contributing sustainable, clean energy to the power grid

Gradually increasing the number of Net Zero Buildings around the world will give us more freedom from fossil fuels and help us make headway toward a more resilient future. Long-term advantages of Net Zero buildings include “lower environmental impacts, lower operating and maintenance costs, better resilience to power outages and natural disasters, and improved energy security.” (US DOE Report, Sept 2015)

Net Zero in Harsh Climates? …It IS POSSIBLE!

If you think Net Zero is only viable in mild, sunny climates, think again!

Moreover, Net Zero is not for experimental, futuristic projects. It is an achievable reality of today!

The Rocky Mountain Institute built the Innovation Center in Basalt, Colorado just 30 minutes outside of Aspen as a Net Zero Energy and Net Zero Water project. Check out the link to see details on technologies, materials, energy consumption, costs, and more.

Multitudes of projects are happening today all over the world. Many buildings use the Net Zero Energy Building Certification program by the International Living Future Institute (ILFI) following guidelines of the Living Building Challenge – the world’s most rigorous and progressive green building program.

Architecture 2030 and the USGBC’s LEED Program are other great resources.

Note: a building can be Net Zero without a third-party certification. Proof can be obtained through your electric meter or usage data from your energy provider.

How do I take steps towards Net Zero?

Net Zero isn’t complicated, but that doesn’t make it easy. It is not enough to simply slap a solar array on a site that meets the energy loads.

Net Zero starts with a committed Owner and an Integrated Design Process. The design and engineering are paramount to delivering a high-performance building, yet at the end of the day, it is how the building is operated and the habits of the occupants that determine the success of actually achieving Net Zero.

Over the next few weeks, we will be sharing tips on how to achieve Net Zero with your next project. Net Zero not a reality for you? The coming posts will have ideas to help you significantly reduce your energy consumption. Save money and contribute to a healthy environment by staying tuned for our Net Zero Education posts in this series:

  • TODAY: Understanding Net Zero
  • March 10: Designing Net Zero
  • May 05: Living Net Zero