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Net Zero Energy Building

Net Zero Concept

Net Zero is a term that refers to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions generated from resource consumption to as close to zero as possible and the concept is applicable to all resource use (e.g., energy, water, waste).

  • Net Zero Energy – consuming no more energy than is produced from renewable sources.
  • Net Zero Water – balancing water demand with water availability.
  • Net Zero Waste – eliminating waste sent to landfills through resource reduction and material reuse and recovery.
  • Net Zero Emissions – any greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere are balanced by the removal of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.

Energy is the first resource to be targeted because:

  • The building industry already has basic energy management tools.
  • Continual improvement in energy efficiency is expected.
  • Net Zero Energy offers significant operational savings.
  • Distributed energy and redundancies improve our disaster resiliency.

Net Zero Energy Building means that a building balances its energy needs with energy produced from renewable, zero-emission sources. While Net Zero Energy Buildings may seem cutting edge, they will become status quo faster than you think.

Cost Savings

Net Zero Energy Buildings have lower operating and maintenance costs, better resiliency to power outages and natural disasters, and improved energy security.

Source: DOE, A Common Definition for Zero Energy Buildingsopens in new window

The Net Zero Energy Building approach is different from previous energy efficiency approaches in two ways:

  1. The baseline and target are "zero" (instead of a percentage improvement over prior performance).
  2. The energy you use must be supplied from renewable energy.

The Department of Energy has released a common definition for Net Zero Energy Buildings: "An energy-efficient building where, on a source energy basis, the actual annual delivered energy is less than or equal to the on-site renewable exported energy." The full report, which includes explanations and definitions on the building, campus, portfolio, and community scale, can be found hereopens in new window.

Who is working on Net Zero Energy Buildings?

Federal legislation has established Net Zero Energy Building targets

Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, Section 433(a) "Federal buildings must reduce fossil fuel-generated energy consumption by increasing percentages reaching 100% reduction in 2030"

State and local initiatives have established Net Zero Energy Building targets

State and Local Initiatives
California The Public Utilities Commission created the “Zero Net Energy Commercial Building Action Plan” as part of California's first Long Term Energy Efficiency Strategic Plan.
Massachusetts The Executive Office of Energy and the Environment created a plan for transforming buildings to Net Zero Energy Buildings.
Oregon The Energy Trust of Oregon created a “Path to Net Zero” pilot program.
Seattle, Washington Seattle created a goal of carbon neutrality by the year 2030. The Seattle 2030 District, a public-private collaborative, is working towards that goal with a high-performance building district in downtown Seattle.

Industry programs have established Net Zero Energy Building targets

Industry Programs
Architecture 2030 The 2030 Challenge advocates for carbon neutral buildings by the year 2030.
AIA 2030 Commitment The American Institute of Architects (AIA) 2030 Commitment is an actionable climate strategy that gives a set of standards and goals for reaching net zero emissions in the built environment.
ASHRAE Vision 2030 The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) Vision 2030 aims to provide tools today that enable the building community to produce market-viable Zero Carbon Buildings by 2030.
Living Building Challenge The Living Building Challenge - Net Zero Energy Building Certification requires not only that a building achieve Net Zero Energy, but also that it does not negatively impact the ability of other buildings to achieve Net Zero Energy (i.e. by shading or urban sprawl).

Net Zero Energy Buildings are a reality with successful examples in operation today. Following are examples of Net Zero Energy Buildings.

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