Net-Zero Energy Is Going Mainstream

  September 28, 2015

Remember a few years ago, when you couldn’t open a trade publication without seeing a profile of a building that had achieved the “first LEED Platinum certification in the Northwest,” or was the “first LEED Gold hospital,” or the “largest LEED-certified office building? Now, you’re starting to see similar articles about net-zero energy commercial buildings.

While net-zero energy buildings are likely less than a tenth of a percent of all new buildings, and even though many perceive a truly net-zero energy commercial building as impractical, at best, and science fiction at worst, these buildings are springing up more and more frequently these days.

These types of buildings are the ultimate in high-performance. But what exactly is a net-zero energy building? The simple answer is one that produces at least as much energy as it uses annually. But there’s some nuance to that answer. If you’re defining net-zero in the most rigid interpretation of the term, then the building must be totally grid-independent. It generates its entire energy spend on site, and is therefore not only net-zero, but also carbon-zero. That is extremely difficult and usually works only on small buildings with big budgets.

The more common path to net-zero energy buildings is ultra-efficient design and operation (including massively reduced plug loads) and onsite renewable generation (like solar or wind).

These days, truly net-zero energy buildings can be certified as such. An organization called the International Living Future Institute offers a Net Zero Energy Building Certification. It’s a as part of its Living Building Challenge

As the industry, and rating systems like LEED, move toward net-zero energy (by 2030 is the most oft-stated goal), will you be ready? We’re working on a story for Building Operating Management magazine for November, and if you’ve had success with net-zero energy buildings, we’d love to hear your story.


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