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Defining Net Zero

In September, the U.S. Department of Energy released a common definition for a net zero energy building. After a year and a half extensive stakeholder engagement process, the Energy Department released its findings in "A Common Definition for Zero Energy Buildings," which you can find at This report states that a zero energy building is "an energy-efficient building where, on a source energy basis, the actual annual delivered energy is less than or equal to the on-site renewable exported energy." The definition also applies to campuses, portfolios and communities. The publication also provides important guidelines for measurement and implementation, specifically on how the definition can be utilized for building projects.

This move of creating a specific definition for net zero buildings has been championed throughout the industry. Here are what some of the industry associations had to say about the report:

"Reducing energy use in buildings must be a major part of the solution as we work to combat the escalating costs and impacts of climate change," said Brendan Owens, chief engineer at the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). "While we are making significant progress to save energy in buildings, this Zero Energy Building definition developed by DOE helps increase expectations and orient the buildings industry towards even greater achievements. USGBC applauds DOE's effort to define zero energy buildings and we look forward to continuing to champion the cause of building efficiency and renewable energy applications to meet the ambitious goals of this definition."

Ralph DiNola, CEO of New Buildings Institute (NBI), said National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS) and USDOE created a set of clear and concise definitions for zero energy buildings that will help narrow the broad array of terminology currently used in the industry. "These consistent definitions will contribute to the growth of zero energy building construction across this country," he added. "NBI supports the definitions as a federal position and will promote this effort through the work we do leading programs, practices and policies to get to zero across North America."

Elizabeth Chu Richter, FAIA, president of the American Institute of Architects (AIA), said AIA member architects have worked to advance the quality of life through design for more than 150 years. "From designing the next generation of energy-saving buildings to making our communities healthier and more vibrant, the 86,000 members of the AIA shape our future through their work," she said. "The quality of this future is wholly dependent on sustainable, resilient buildings that reduce the nation's reliance on non-renewable energy sources. That is why the Department of Energy's work is vitally important to the industry and nation as a whole."

The reason I mention this now is this month's Special Feature takes a look at the cost of building to net zero. While the increased number of projects achieving net zero status has increased over the last few years, proving that this goal is actually achievable in all areas and in buildings of all sizes, there is still concern by potential clients on the cost to achieve net zero status.


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