Climbing Towards Zero Net Energy Buildings

February 22, 2021 | By: Molly Looman

While many property professionals and building owners aim to be energy efficient and have green elements, some teams are reaching for the maximum in decreasing their carbon footprint. Zero net energy buildings are becoming a goal for many organizations. It may even be the future of building construction. Let’s break down what they are and why they need to be on the radar.

The Definitions

According to the Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy, a zero energy building consumes only as much energy as can be produced onsite through renewable resources over a specified period. These performance targets can change based on climate zone. Creating a zero energy building requires everyone on the team and often starts at construction. However, many properties can be retrofitted to meet the energy goals and standards.

Zero net energy has mostly been a goal of cities and their residential constructions, but the commercial real estate industry is already looking into making large-scale changes to achieve this goal. Here are the main definitions you need to know according to the U.S. Department of Energy:

Net-Zero Site Energy: produces as much renewable energy as it uses
annually, when accounted for at site.

Net-Zero Source Energy: produces (or purchases) as much renewable
energy as it uses annually, when accounted for at source. Source energy
refers to primary energy used to extract, process, generate, and deliver
energy to the site.

Net-Zero Energy Costs: building in which money the utility pays the
building owner for the renewable energy the building exports to the grid is
at least equal to the amount the owner pays the utility for energy services
and energy used annually.

Net-Zero Energy Emissions: produces (or purchases) enough emissions free
renewable energy to offset emissions from all energy used in the
building annually. Carbon, nitrogen oxides, and sulfur oxides are common
emissions that ZEBs offset.

The Details

Not only does this goal have a positive effect on the environment, but it is also more economical. Creating zero net energy buildings means waste is building eliminated both physically and fiscally. Some state governments and departments are even incentivizing property teams to move toward this goal to create a cleaner city.

Changes that can move a building towards zero net energy include using daylighting, building materials with recycled content, dual flush facilities, narrow floor plates, and natural ventilation. While the standards change depending on the climate zone, these changes can lead a building to be more efficient and less wasteful even if the goal is net-zero energy.

The Future

While many owners see zero net energy buildings as a way to achieve their own goals, there are larger goals to be achieved as well. The Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy has tools to move towards zero net energy districts, office parks, and schools. Converting large and high-traffic facilities into zero net energy could have a huge impact on the environment and the waste level produced by those facilities.