Buildings that produce as much energy on-site as they consume are becoming more common
A weak economy and rising energy prices have led to a buzz over building efficiency. Light bulb regulations, LEED and Energy Star ratings for homes and appliances, stricter construction codes, and government incentives are all parts of a national effort to cut energy waste in the building sector.
Nearly 40 percent of the nation’s energy is consumed by homes and commercial buildings, which means that making them more efficient would not only save money but also drastically reduce carbon emissions. So a handful of builders are taking the idea one step further: Why construct a building that uses less energy when we can make one that uses no energy at all?
That’s the philosophy behind “net-zero” buildings, and they have been springing up all over the country in recent years. By the purest definition, a net-zero building produces all the renewable energy it needs on site, drawing no more power from the grid than it gives back.
Considering that a shack in the woods is technically net zero, the concept isn’t exactly new. But advances in technology over the past decade have made it easier to design sophisticated buildings that produce 100 percent of their own energy. At least 21 commercial buildings in the United States meet net-zero standards, according to a study released yesterday by the New Buildings Institute and the Zero Energy Commercial Building Consortium.
They run the gamut from offices to libraries to elementary schools. Researchers identified eight more unverified buildings that may also be net zero and an additional 39 that would classify if they installed more on-site renewable energy systems, plus dozens more under construction.
“We are seeing commercial examples of larger and more complicated buildings, which I think is a positive sign,” says Stacey Hobart, the communications director at the New Buildings Institute. “Most of these buildings are smaller buildings, and most of them are early market adopters.” Universities and local governments have also been responsible for much of the construction, largely because “they have a charge to say, ‘This is a net-zero building,'” explains Hobart.
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