Buildings and Cities
Net Zero Buildings
A net zero building is one that has zero net energy consumption, producing as much energy as it uses in a year. In some months it may generate excess electricity through distributed renewables; at other times it may require electricity from the grid. On balance, it is self-supporting. Net zero buildings are more resilient during disasters and blackouts, are more carefully designed by necessity, and generally have reduced operating costs.
Designing a net zero building means seeing a building as a system and addressing the sources of energy use. There are multiple ways to reduce a building’s energy loads, including:
- Maximum insulation,
- Electrochromic glass,
- Passive solar design, and
- Advanced heating and cooling.
Net zero buildings were once a novelty, but are becoming more commonplace, as architects roll out extraordinary buildings across the world. There is now a Walgreens drugstore in Chicago that is a net zero building. Net zero neighborhoods, districts, and communities are also being designed and constructed. Newer net zero buildings push the margins further: zero water and zero waste. They harvest rainwater and process sewage on-site into compostable forms.
ventilation principles from…termite mounds: King, Hunter, Samuel Ocko, and Lakshminarayanan Mahadevan. “Termite Mounds Harness Diurnal Temperature Oscillations for Ventilation.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 112, no. 37 (2015): 11589-11593.
Kaupuni Village…in Hawaii: NREL. Kaupuni Village: A Closer Look at the First Net-Zero Energy Affordable Housing Community in Hawaii. Golden, CO: National Renewable Energy Laboratory, 2012.
Sonnenschiff…in Freiburg, Germany: Michler, Andrew. “Sonnenschiff: Solar City Produces 4X the Energy It Consumes.” Inhabitat. July 27, 2011.
Cambridge…net zero by 2040: City of Cambridge. “Net Zero Action Plan.” http://www.cambridgema.gov/cdd/projects/climate/netzerotaskforce.
California…net zero [goals]: Waltner, Meg. “New California Building Efficiency Standards Set the Stage for Zero Net Energy Homes by 2020.” Natural Resources Defense Council (blog). June 10, 2015.
Walgreens drugstore in Chicago: Jaspen, Bruce. “Close to Its Home, Walgreen Tests Energy-Saving Ideas.” New York Times. June 4, 2013.
U.S. building sector energy consumption: Architecture 2030. “U.S. Building Sector Emissions Down—The Driving Force: You!” January 4, 2017; EIA. Annual Energy Outlook 2017. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Energy Information Administration, 2017.