How feasible is it for your facility to become a certified
zero energy building?
The number of net zero energy buildings in the
U.S. has increased significantly over the last
decade, and that has changed the perception
of these facilities from being an unreachable
ideal to a more attainable one.
The New Buildings Institute’s 2016 List of
Zero Net Energy Buildings includes 332 facilities that have either verified net zero energy
operation or committed to achieving zero
energy, a massive increase from the 191 that
made its 2015 list. As the industry continues to
shift toward sustainable solutions, what kinds
of paths are available for you to achieve certification as a zero energy building?
A Zero Energy Tipping Point
The Department of Energy defines zero energy buildings as
those where, “on a source energy basis, the actual delivered
energy is less than or equal to the on-site renewable exported
energy.” This is usually calculated in 12-month increments, as
consumption fluctuates throughout the year with changes in
weather. As long as the facility gives as much energy back to
the grid as it consumes, it is a zero energy building.
Green building practices have been around for decades, but
zero energy buildings have slowly emerged across the country.
However, as sustainability and cost-effectiveness continue to
overlap, it seems as though zero energy buildings will multiply
over the course of the next decade or two.
“I think we are at a tipping point. Right now we have about
65 projects that are certified as having achieved zero energy
performance. We have about 400 that are registered as pursuing it through one of our certifications,” says Brad Liljequist,
Zero Energy Director at the International Living Future
PATH to NET ZERO
Institute (ILFI). These projects widely vary in use and are
categorized as residential, commercial and office, and institu-
tional buildings. Most are new construction projects.
California leads the U.S. in zero energy buildings due to its
favorable climate and incentive programs, and Portland, OR,
and the north Atlantic coast are also leaders in net zero, according to the New Buildings Institute. There are either verified or
emerging zero energy buildings in 39 states.
One indication that Liljequist cites as a harbinger for the
future proliferation of zero energy facilities is that engineers
and architects are not the only people discussing the concept
of them. Even those without the expertise in facilities are more
frequently coming in with a strong idea of the cost savings and
additional benefits that can come with zero energy facilities.
“In the last year, I’m hearing average, mainstream people
using the term ‘zero energy,’ which is telling me that we are
going to see a very rapid acceleration in zero energy buildings,”
says Liljequist. “Within five years, I think we’re going to be talking in terms of tens of thousands of zero energy buildings.”
Certifying Zero Energy Buildings
While there are a number of more general green and energy
efficiency building certifications out there, the offerings
for prospective net zero energy buildings are less common.
Currently, there is one main certification for zero energy; the
ILFI has had a program since 2011, and it was revamped in
2017 to create the Zero Energy Certification in partnership
with the New Buildings Institute.
The goal of this certification is to provide recognition for facilities that achieve net zero energy usage for 12 consecutive months
and to collect information that can be used to inform building
owners of zero energy prospects. Over time, this will provide
the foundation to perform metadata analysis that will aid their
efforts to foster the continued adoption of zero energy buildings.
“We work quite a bit with projects that are in the process of
achieving zero energy,” says Liljequist. “We do a lot of coach-
ing, a lot of education through publications and classes, and