The Future of Net Zero Buildings
Looking beyond sustainable buildings
and LEED ratings, net zero buildings that produce all of the energy
they need, is the next big thing for the construction market.
Earlier this year, Pike Research released a report called "Zero Energy Buildings: Global Market, Regulatory,
and Technology Analysis for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy
in Commercial and Residential Buildings," indicating that
worldwide revenue from net zero construction will reach almost $690
billion by 2020 and nearly $1.3 trillion by 2035.
Currently, there are three projects that have received full
certification under the Living Building Challenge, with four more
having been certified through the International Living Future Institute's Net Zero
Energy Building Certification (see
sidebar) and Petal Recognition programs. There are
approximately 140 projects currently registered with the Challenge,
and at various stages in the process, according to Sarah Costello,
vice president, development and communications at the Portland,
Ore.-based International Living Future Institute. Of those, 14
projects are currently in the process of completing the 12-month
post-construction occupancy period required before beginning the
Costello says that they are aware that there are more cases
around the world, where projects are already providing modern
performance levels while relying on current solar income. These
projects are being actively sought out, in hopes of verifying their
performance and sharing their strategies with a wider community.
"Each of these projects inspires others to take the leap and commit
to this ambitious performance level," she notes. "We believe that
Pike Research has identified that most important trend in the
building industry and that over the coming years, net zero will
become standard in many project types."
Greenest of the Green
While there are only a handful of certified net zero buildings
so far, the 24,350-square-foot Center for Sustainable Landscapes (CSL) at Phipps
Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in Pittsburgh is one of the
greenest buildings in the world. Completed this past spring, the
center is expected to meet the Living Building Challenge, U.S. Green Building
Council's LEED Platinum certification and Sustainable
Sites Initiative (SITES) certification for landscapes.
Executive Director Richard Piacentini explains that after the
completion of the center's Tropical Forest Conservatory, when [the board]
started thinking about phase three of its sustainable building
project, "we found ourselves thinking in systems and looking at how
each building, and everything we do, interacts with other
buildings, activities and the environment."
The project generates all of its own energy through a vertical
axis wind turbine, photovoltaic solar panels and geothermal wells,
in addition to taking advantage of passive cooling, heating and
lighting methods. Per square foot, its total annual energy
consumption is projected to be 80 percent less than that of an
average office building and 63 percent less than an average
Additionally, the CSL will capture, treat and reuse all water on
site, and features a green roof, lagoon, rain gardens, permeable
paved surfaces, constructed wetlands and a water distillation
"[Net zero] is where we need to go in the future so that
everyone on the planet can enjoy a higher and better standard of
living, with a minimal negative impact on the planet and the other
species that we share it with," Piacentini says.
A Company Initiative
One of the companies taking advantage of the move towards net
zero is Deland, Fla.-based Kingspan Insulated Panels Inc. The company's
long-term mission is to see all its facilities achieve net zero
energy consumption by 2020. To do that, Kingspan introduced a Net
Zero Energy Initiative across all its groups. The plan includes
moving five Kingspan plants and three Morin plants all toward net
zero. "The Net Zero Energy Initiative not only makes good business
sense for Kingspan and showcases some of our renewable products,
but it also provides a road map for our customers and industry on
how to develop and achieve a net zero energy goal," says Paul
Bertram Jr., FCSI, CDT, LEED AP, Kingspan's director of environment
"The primary advantage of the net zero strategy is the
opportunity to reduce our environmental footprint with the goal of
producing as much energy as used," Bertram explains. Through the
company's ISO-compliant Life Cycle Assessment program it tracks all
energy-related environmental impacts of the manufacturing
processes, including those tied back to the grid. "Ultimately,
there is potential for long-term cost benefits," he says.
Bertram says the first challenge to the strategy is defining
what the goal and scope includes. This begins with an energy audit
that provides a baseline to develop a plan for meeting the net zero
energy goals. "Net zero energy is more possible with new
construction of buildings, but there is definitely a challenge in
this goal for existing manufacturing operations," he says.
"Starting with lighting, equipment and building automated controls,
designated equipment updates one might expect 10 to 20 percent
improvements to the baseline.
"After that step, renewables-including solar, geothermal, wind,
CHP [combined heat and power], cogeneration and other advance
strategies-are considered through a life cycle costing exercise.
Final options, including green power and renewable energy credits,
are also considered."
Bertram explains that Kingspan's Net Zero Initiative is part of
the company's commitment to sustainable design and manufacturing
strategies, including dedicated resources to ensure environmental
and socially responsible safe and healthy environments.
As more and more people and companies become familiar with net
zero and all of its benefits, we will start to see more projects
going in that direction. Some companies are already starting to see
an increase in net zero projects. Michael Deane, LEED AP BD+C, vice
president and chief sustainability officer at Turner
Construction Co., New York City, notes that the company has
seen an increase in energy efficiency in its highest performing
buildings over the last several years.
He adds that there are currently six projects in Turner's
portfolio seeking net zero energy. Of those, three have already
completed construction. "We believe that they are going to achieve
net zero, that they are designed for that," he says. "And if they
are operated correctly, they should achieve that. And I expect we
will see more and more buildings like that as time goes on."
*Photos from top: Copyright Paul G. Wiegman, Andropogon
Associates, Denmarsh Photography Inc.
Net Zero Energy Building Certification
In November 2011, the International Living Future Institute
launched a new net zero energy building certification for buildings
that achieve net zero energy. According to Sarah Costello, vice
president, development and communications at the International
Living Future Institute, Portland, Ore., the net zero energy
building certification grew out of a "desire to provide a reliable
third-party verification for the growing number of project that are
claiming to have achieved net zero energy performance."
She says that the process not only ensures that projects have
been performing as well as predicted, but it creates a central
repository for information about the world's most advanced projects
in terms of energy performance. "Our belief is that by identifying
and verifying all of the projects that have actually achieved net
zero performance, we spur the increased adoption of advanced energy
practices, triggering a major leap forward throughout the building
Costello goes on to say that the "Net Zero Energy Building
Certification also recognizes that while all of the elements of the
Living Building Challenge are critical to the restoration of our
over-taxed ecosystems, climate change has created particular
urgency around the issue of energy. If we can eliminate the use of
fossil fuels to power our built environment, we can take a major
step toward averting the worst effects of climate change."
To be certified under the Living Building Challenge, there are
20 imperatives grouped into seven categories, or petals-site,
water, energy, health, materials, equity and beauty-that a project
must meet. For Net Zero Energy Certification, projects are required
to address five of the Living Building Challenge's imperatives:
• Limits to Growth (in part): Curbs the building's
contribution to the effects of sprawled development, which
undermines the positive impact of achieving net zero energy
• Net Zero Energy: Serves as the primary focus of
Net Zero Energy Building Certification.
• Rights to Nature: Ensures that the building does
not preclude another building from achieving net zero energy
operation as a result of excessive shading.
• Beauty + Spirit: Underscore the notion that
renewable energy systems can be incorporated into a building in
ways that are attractive and inspiring.
• Inspiration + Education: As with Beauty + Spirit,
this requirement ensures that projects offer points of connection
for the people who will interact with them.
By definition, all projects that achieve full certification
under the Living Building Challenge are performing at net zero
energy. "This newer program allows us to spotlight projects that
choose to focus on one critical aspect of our larger goal: bringing
the built environment into a positive relationship with the
ecosystems it inhabits," Costello says.
To learn more, visit www.living-future.org/netzero.