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Zero-energy building

Zero-energy test building in Tallinn, Estonia. Tallinn University of Technology.

A zero-energy building, also known as a zero net energy (ZNE) building, net-zero energy building (NZEB), or net zero building, is a building with zero net energy consumption, meaning the total amount of energy used by the building on an annual basis is roughly equal to the amount of renewable energy created on the site. These buildings still produce greenhouse gases because on cloudy (or non-windy) days, at night when the sun isn't shining, and on short winter days, conventional grid power is still the main energy source. Because of this, most zero net energy buildings still get half or more of their energy from the grid. Buildings that produce a surplus of energy over the year may be called "energy-plus buildings" and buildings that consume slightly more energy than they produce are called "near-zero energy buildings" or "ultra-low energy houses".

Traditional buildings consume 40% of the total fossil fuel energy in the US and European Union and are significant contributors of greenhouse gases.[1][2] The zero net energy consumption principle is viewed as a means to reduce carbon emissions and reduce dependence on fossil fuels and although zero-energy buildings remain uncommon even in developed countries, they are gaining importance and popularity.

Most zero-energy buildings use the electrical grid for energy storage but some are independent of grid. Energy is usually harvested on-site through a combination of energy producing technologies like solar and wind, while reducing the overall use of energy with highly efficient HVAC and lighting technologies. The zero-energy goal is becoming more practical as the costs of alternative energy technologies decrease and the costs of traditional fossil fuels increase.

The development of modern zero-energy buildings became possible not only through the progress made in new energy and construction technologies and techniques, but it has also been significantly improved by academic research, which collects precise energy performance data on traditional and experimental buildings and provides performance parameters for advanced computer models to predict the efficacy of engineering designs. Zero Energy Building is considered as a part of smart grid. Some advantages of these buildings are as follow:

  • Integration of renewable energy resources
  • Integration of plug-in electric vehicles
  • Implementation of zero-energy concepts

The zero-energy concept allows for a wide range of approaches due to the many options for producing and conserving energy combined with the many ways of measuring energy (relating to cost, energy, or carbon emissions).


  • Definitions 1
  • Design and construction 2
  • Energy harvest 3
    • The "energy harvest" versus "energy conservation" debate 3.1
    • Occupant behavior 3.2
  • Development efforts 4
    • Influential zero-energy and low-energy buildings 4.1
  • Advantages and disadvantages 5
    • Advantages 5.1
    • Disadvantages 5.2
    • Zero energy building versus green building 5.3
      • Certification 5.3.1
  • Worldwide 6
    • International initiatives 6.1
    • Belgium 6.2
    • Canada 6.3
    • China 6.4
    • Denmark 6.5
    • Germany 6.6
    • India 6.7
    • Iran 6.8
    • Ireland 6.9
    • Malaysia 6.10
    • Netherlands 6.11
    • Norway 6.12
    • Singapore 6.13
    • Switzerland 6.14
    • United Arab Emirates 6.15
    • United Kingdom 6.16
    • United States 6.17
      • Energy Free Home Challenge 6.17.1
      • List 6.17.2
  • See also 7
  • References 8
  • Further reading 9
  • External links 10
    • Building examples 10.1
    • Planning tools 10.2


Despite sharing the name "zero net energy", there are several definitions of what the term means in practice, with a particular difference in usage between North America and Europe.[3]

Zero net site energy use
In this type of ZNE, the amount of energy provided by on-site renewable energy sources is equal to the amount of energy used by the building. In the United States, “zero net energy building” generally refers to this type of building.
Zero net source energy use
This ZNE generates the same amount of energy as is used, including the energy used to transport the energy to the building. This type accounts for losses during electricity transmission. These ZNEs must generate more electricity than zero net site energy buildings.
Net zero energy emissions
Outside the United States and Canada, a ZEB is generally defined as one with zero net energy emissions, also known as a zero carbon building or zero emissions building. Under this definition the carbon emissions generated from on-site or off-site fossil fuel use are balanced by the amount of on-site renewable energy production. Other definitions include not only the carbon emissions generated by the building in use, but also those generated in the construction of the building and the embodied energy of the structure. Others debate whether the carbon emissions of commuting to and from the building should also be included in the calculation.
Net zero cost
In this type of building, the cost of purchasing energy is balanced by income from sales of electricity to the grid of electricity generated on-site. Such a status depends on how a utility credits net electricity generation and the utility rate structure the building uses.
Net off-site zero energy use
A building may be considered a ZEB if 100% of the energy it purchases comes from renewable energy sources, even if the energy is generated off the site.
Off-the-grid buildings are stand-alone ZEBs that are not connected to an off-site energy utility facility. They require distributed renewable energy generation and energy storage capability (for when the sun is not shining, wind is not blowing, etc.). An energy autarkic house is a building concept where the balance of the own energy consumption and production can be made on an hourly or even smaller basis. Energy autarkic houses can be taken off-the-grid.
Net zero-energy building
Based on scientific analysis within the joint research program “Towards Net Zero Energy Solar Buildings” [4] a methodological framework was set up which allows different definitions, in accordance with country’s political targets, specific (climate) conditions and respectively formulated requirements for indoor conditions: The overall conceptual understanding of a Net ZEB is an energy efficient, grid connected building enabled to generate energy from renewable sources to compensate its own energy demand (see figure 1
Figure 1: The Net ZEB balance concept: balance of weighted energy import respectively energy demand (x-axis) and energy export (feed-in credits) respectively (on-site) generation (y-axis)
The wording “Net” emphasizes the energy exchange between the building and the energy infrastructure. By the building-grid interaction, the Net ZEBs becomes an active part of the renewable energy infrastructure. This connection to energy grids prevents seasonal energy storage and oversized on-site systems for energy generation from renewable sources like in energy autonomous buildings. The similarity of both concepts is a pathway of two actions: 1) reduce energy demand by means of energy efficiency measures and passive energy use; 2) generate energy from renewable sources. However, the Net ZEBs grid interaction and plans to widely increase their numbers [5] evoke considerations on increased flexibility in the shift of energy loads and reduced peak demands.[6]
Within this balance procedure several aspects and explicit choices have to be determined:
  • The building system boundary is split into a physical boundary which determines which renewable resources are considered (e.g. in buildings footprint, on-site or even off-site, see [7]) respectively how many buildings are included in the balance (single building, cluster of buildings) and a balance boundary which determines the included energy uses (e.g. heating, cooling, ventilation, hot water, lighting, appliances, IT, central services, electric vehicles, and embodied energy, etc.). It should be noticed that renewable energy supply options can be prioritized (e.g. by transportation or conversion effort, availability over the lifetime of the building or replication potential for future, etc.) and therefore create a hierarchy. It may be argued that resources within the building footprint or on-site should be given priority over off-site supply options.
  • The weighting system converts the physical units of different energy carriers into a uniform metric (site/final energy, source/primary energy renewable parts included or not, energy cost, equivalent carbon emissions and even energy or environmental credits) and allows their comparison and compensation among each other in one single balance (e.g. exported PV electricity can compensate imported biomass). Politically influenced and therefore possibly asymmetrically or time dependent conversion/weighting factors can affect the relative value of energy carriers and can influence the required energy generation capacity.
  • The balancing period is often assumed to be one year (suitable to cover all operation energy uses). A shorter period (monthly or seasonal) could also be considered as well as a balance over the entire life cycle (including embodied energy, which could also be annualized and counted in addition to operational energy uses).
  • The energy balance can be done in two balance types: 1) Balance of delivered/imported and exported energy (monitoring phase as self-consumption of energy generated on-site can be included); 2) Balance between (weighted) energy demand and (weighted) energy generation (for design phase as normally end users temporal consumption patterns -e.g. for lighting, appliances, etc.- are lacking). Alternatively a balance based on monthly net values in which only residuals per month are summed up to an annual balance is imaginable. This can be seen either as a load/generation balance or as a special case of import/export balance where a “virtual monthly self-consumption” is assumed (see figure 2
    Figure 2: The Net ZEB balance concept: Graphical representation of the different types of balance: import/export balance between weighted exported and delivered energy, load/generation balance between weighted generation and load, and monthly net balance between weighted monthly net values of generation and load
    and compare [8]).
  • Beside the energy balance, Net ZEBs can be characterized by their ability to match the building's load by its energy generation (load matching) or to work beneficially with respect to the needs of the local grid infrastructure (grind interaction). Both can be expressed by suitable indicators which are intended as assessment tools only.

The information is based on the publications,[8][9] and [10] in which deeper information could be found.

Design and construction

The most cost-effective steps toward a reduction in a building's energy consumption usually occur during the design process.[11] To achieve efficient energy use, zero energy design departs significantly from conventional construction practice. Successful zero energy building designers typically combine time tested passive solar, or artificial conditioning, principles that work with the on-site assets. Sunlight and solar heat, prevailing breezes, and the cool of the earth below a building, can provide daylighting and stable indoor temperatures with minimum mechanical means. ZEBs are normally optimized to use passive solar heat gain and shading, combined with thermal mass to stabilize diurnal temperature variations throughout the day, and in most climates are superinsulated.[12] All the technologies needed to create zero energy buildings are available off-the-shelf today.

Sophisticated 3-D building energy simulation tools are available to model how a building will perform with a range of design variables such as building orientation (relative to the daily and seasonal position of the sun), window and door type and placement, overhang depth, insulation type and values of the building elements, air tightness (weatherization), the efficiency of heating, cooling, lighting and other equipment, as well as local climate. These simulations help the designers predict how the building will perform before it is built, and enable them to model the economic and financial implications on building cost benefit analysis, or even more appropriate – life cycle assessment.

Zero-energy buildings are built with significant energy-saving features. The heating and cooling loads are lowered by using high-efficiency equipment, added insulation, high-efficiency windows, natural ventilation, and other techniques. These features vary depending on climate zones in which the construction occurs. Water heating loads can be lowered by using water conservation fixtures, heat recovery units on waste water, and by using solar water heating, and high-efficiency water heating equipment. In addition, daylighting with skylights or solartubes can provide 100% of daytime illumination within the home. Nighttime illumination is typically done with fluorescent and LED lighting that use 1/3 or less power than incandescent lights, without adding unwanted heat. And miscellaneous electric loads can be lessened by choosing efficient appliances and minimizing phantom loads or standby power. Other techniques to reach net zero (dependent on climate) are Earth sheltered building principles, superinsulation walls using straw-bale construction, Vitruvianbuilt pre-fabricated building panels and roof elements plus exterior landscaping for seasonal shading.

Zero-energy buildings are often designed to make dual use of energy including white goods; for example, using refrigerator exhaust to heat domestic water, ventilation air and shower drain heat exchangers, office machines and computer servers, and body heat to heat the building. These buildings make use of heat energy that conventional buildings may exhaust outside. They may use heat recovery ventilation, hot water heat recycling, combined heat and power, and absorption chiller units.

Energy harvest

ZEBs harvest available energy to meet their electricity and heating or cooling needs. In the case of individual houses, various microgeneration technologies may be used to provide heat and electricity to the building, using solar cells or wind turbines for electricity, and biofuels or solar thermal collectors linked to a seasonal thermal energy storage (STES) for space heating. An STES can also be used for summer cooling by storing the cold of winter underground. To cope with fluctuations in demand, zero energy buildings are frequently connected to the electricity grid, export electricity to the grid when there is a surplus, and drawing electricity when not enough electricity is being produced.[3] Other buildings may be fully autonomous.

Energy harvesting is most often more effective (in cost and resource utilization) when done on a local but combined scale, for example, a group of houses, cohousing, local district, village, etc. rather than an individual basis. An energy benefit of such localized energy harvesting is the virtual elimination of electrical transmission and electricity distribution losses. These losses amount to about 7.2%–7.4% of the energy transferred.[13] Energy harvesting in commercial and industrial applications should benefit from the topography of each location. The production of goods under net zero fossil energy consumption requires locations of geothermal, microhydro, solar, and wind resources to sustain the concept.[14]

Zero-energy neighborhoods, such as the BedZED development in the United Kingdom, and those that are spreading rapidly in California and China, may use distributed generation schemes. This may in some cases include district heating, community chilled water, shared wind turbines, etc. There are current plans to use ZEB technologies to build entire off-the-grid or net zero energy use cities.

The "energy harvest" versus "energy conservation" debate

One of the key areas of debate in zero energy building design is over the balance between energy conservation and the distributed point-of-use harvesting of renewable energy (solar energy and wind energy). Most zero energy homes use a combination of the two strategies.

As a result of significant government subsidies for photovoltaic solar electric systems, wind turbines, etc., there are those who suggest that a ZEB is a conventional house with distributed renewable energy harvesting technologies. Entire additions of such homes have appeared in locations where photovoltaic (PV) subsidies are significant,[15] but many so called "Zero Energy Homes" still have utility bills. This type of energy harvesting without added energy conservation may not be cost effective with the current price of electricity generated with photovoltaic equipment (depending on the local price of power company electricity),[16] and may also requires greater embodied energy and greater resources so be thus the less ecological approach.

Since the 1980s, passive solar building design and passive house have demonstrated heating energy consumption reductions of 70% to 90% in many locations, without active energy harvesting. For new builds, and with expert design, this can be accomplished with little additional construction cost for materials over a conventional building. Very few industry experts have the skills or experience to fully capture benefits of the passive design.[17] Such passive solar designs are much more cost-effective than adding expensive photovoltaic panels on the roof of a conventional inefficient building.[16] A few kilowatt-hours of photovoltaic panels (costing 2 to 3 dollars per annual kW-hr production, U.S. dollar equivalent) may only reduce external energy requirements by 15% to 30%. A 100,000 BTU (110 MJ) high seasonal energy efficiency ratio 14 conventional air conditioner requires over 7 kW of photovoltaic electricity while it is operating, and that does not include enough for off-the-grid night-time operation. Passive cooling, and superior system engineering techniques, can reduce the air conditioning requirement by 70% to 90%. Photovoltaic-generated electricity becomes more cost-effective when the overall demand for electricity is lower.

Occupant behavior

The energy used in a building can vary greatly depending on the behavior of its occupants. The acceptance of what is considered comfortable varies widely. Studies of identical homes in the United States have shown dramatic differences in energy use, with some homes using more than twice the energy of others.[18] Occupant behavior can vary from differences in setting and programming thermostats, varying levels of illumination and hot water, and the amount of miscellaneous electric devices or plug loads used.[19]

Development efforts

Wide acceptance of zero-energy building technology may require more government incentives or building code regulations, the development of recognized standards, or significant increases in the cost of conventional energy.

The Google photovoltaic campus and the Microsoft 480-kilowatt photovoltaic campus relied on U.S. Federal, and especially California, subsidies and financial incentives. California is now providing US$3.2 billion in subsidies[20] for residential-and-commercial near-zero-energy buildings, due to California's serious electricity shortage, frequent power outages, and air pollution problems. The details of other American states' renewable energy subsidies (up to US$5.00 per watt) can be found in the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency.[21] The Florida Solar Energy Center has a slide presentation on recent progress in this area.[22]

The World Business Council for Sustainable Development[23] has launched a major initiative to support the development of ZEB. Led by the CEO of

  • EnerCalC – Simplified building performance and energy/emission balancing tool

Planning tools

  • World Map of 360 international known Net Zero Energy Buildings

Building examples

  • U.S. Department of Energy Building America
  • Oak Ridge National Laboratory Building Technologies and Integration Center
  • IEA EBC-SHC joint project 'Towards Net Zero Energy Solar Buildings'
  • Zero Energy Building Database from U.S. Department of Energy's Building Technologies Program
  • Zero Net Energy Policies and Projects from UW-Extension's Solid & Hazardous Waste Education Center
  • IEA research program "Net Zero Energy Solar Buildings"
  • Strategic Research for Zero Energy Buildings
  • news about nearly Zero Energy Buildings
  • GSA Sustainable Facilities Tool - Transformation to Net Zero Energy

External links

  • Nisson, J. D. Ned; and Gautam Dutt, "The Superinsulated Home Book", John Wiley & Sons, 1985, ISBN 978-0-471-88734-8, ISBN 978-0-471-81343-9.
  • Markvart, Thomas; Editor, "Solar Electricity" John Wiley & Sons; 2nd edition, 2000, ISBN 978-0-471-98853-3.
  • Clarke, Joseph; "Energy Simulation in Building Design", Second Edition Butterworth-Heinemann; 2nd edition, 2001, ISBN 978-0-7506-5082-3.
  • National Renewable Energy Laboratory, 2000 ZEB meeting report
  • Noguchi, Masa, ed., "The Quest for Zero Carbon Housing Solutions", Open House International, Vol.33, No.3, 2008, Open House International
  • Voss, Karsten; Musall, Eike: "Net zero energy buildings – International projects of carbon neutrality in buildings", Munich, 2011, ISBN 978-3-920034-80-5.

Further reading

  1. ^ Baden, S., et al., "Hurdling Financial Barriers to Lower Energy Buildings: Experiences from the USA and Europe on Financial Incentives and Monetizing Building Energy Savings in Private Investment Decisions." Proceedings of 2006 ACEEE Summer Study on Energy Efficiency in Buildings, American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy, Washington DC, August 2006.
  2. ^ US Department of Energy. Annual Energy Review 2006 27 June 2007. Accessed 27 April 2008.
  3. ^ a b Torcellini, P.; Pless, S.; Deru, M. (June 2006). "Zero Energy Buildings: A Critical Look at the Definition". National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Retrieved 25 June 2014. 
  4. ^ a b "Net Zero Energy Solar Buildings". International Energy Agency: Solar Heating and Cooling Programme. 2014. Retrieved 25 June 2014. 
  5. ^ European Parliament and the Council of the EU (16.06.2010): Directive 2010/31/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 19 May 2010 on the energy performance of buildings (EPBD 2010), Article 9: Member States shall ensure that: (a) by 31 December 2020, all new buildings are nearly zero- energy buildings; and (b) after 31 December 2018, new buildings occupied and owned by public authorities are nearly zero-energy buildings
  6. ^ Salom, Jaume; Widen, Joakim; Candanedo, Jose A.; Sartori, Igor; Voss, Karsten; Marszal, Anna Joanna (2011): Understanding Net Zero Energy Buildings: Evaluation of Load Matching and Grid Interaction Indicators. Proceedings of Building Simulation 2011: 12th Conference of International Building Performance Simulation Association. Sydney
  7. ^ Marszal, Anna Joanna; Heiselberg, Per; Bourelle, Julien; Musall, Eike; Voss, Karsten; Sartori, Igor; Napolitano, Assunta (2011): Zero Energy Building – A Review of definitions and calculation methodologies. In: Energy and Buildings 43 (4), pages 971–979
  8. ^ a b Sartori, Igor; Napolitano, Assunta; Voss, Karsten (2012): Net Zero Energy Buildings: A Consistent Definition Framework. In: Energy and Buildings (48), pages 220–232
  9. ^ Voss, Karsten; Sartori, Igor; Lollini, Roberto (2012): Nearly-zero, Net zero and Plus Energy Buildings. How definitions & regulations affect the solutions. In: REHVA Journal 6 (49), pages 23–27
  10. ^ Voss, Karsten; Musall, Eike (2012): Net zero energy buildings – International projects of carbon neutrality in buildings. 2nd edition. Institut für internationale Architektur-Dokumentation, München, ISBN 978-3-920034-80-5.
  11. ^ Vieira, R., "The Energy Policy Pyramid – A Hierarchal Tool For Decision Makers"., Fifteenth Symposium on Improving Building Systems in Hot and Humid Climates, July 24–26, 2006 Orlando, Florida.
  12. ^ Frej, Anne, editor (2005). Green Office Buildings: A Practical Guide to Development. Urban Land Institute. pp. 138–142.  
  13. ^ Powerwatch. Domestic Energy Use in the UK. 2000.
  14. ^ [1]
  15. ^ Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency (DSIRE) Home. 2007.
  16. ^ a b P. Eiffert. Guidelines for the Economic Evaluation of Building-Integrated Photovoltaic Power Systems. Prepared for National Renewable Energy Laboratory. January 2003.
  17. ^ a b Spiegel, Jan Allen. "The House that Green Built." New York Times. 20 April 2008. Last retrieved: 15 December 2013.
  18. ^ Parker, D., Hoak, D., Cummings, J., “Pilot Evaluation of Energy Savings from Residential Energy Demand Feedback Devices,” Florida Solar Energy Center, January 2008.
  19. ^ Energy Pyramid Ref
  20. ^ Go Solar California
  21. ^ Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency
  22. ^ Energy: The Grand Challenge of the 21st Century
  23. ^ World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD)
  24. ^ World Business Council for Sustainable Development, August 2007, Energy Efficiency in Buildings: Business Realities and Opportunities Retrieved: 2007-09-05.
  25. ^ "Building Energy Rating Ireland". Retrieved 25 June 2014. 
  26. ^ US Environmental Protection Agency, "Green Building," 16 Apr. 2008. Accessed on: 17 May 2008.
  27. ^ Net-Zero Energy Home (NZEH) Coalition, Canada
  28. ^ Equilibrium Housing Competition Canada
  29. ^ EcoTerra House, Canadian Home Builders' Association
  30. ^ Net Zero-energy home design strategies, Canada
  31. ^ [2]
  32. ^ "EcoPlusHome". 2014. Retrieved 25 June 2014. 
  33. ^ "Skidmore, Owings & Merrill Pearl River Tower". Retrieved 2008-04-14. 
  34. ^ DOE Solar Decathlon: Final Results:First Place: Technische Universität Darmstadt
  35. ^ Self-Sufficient Solar House
  36. ^ "Prime Minister Inaugurates “Indira Paryavaran Bhawan”. Bhawan is India’s First on Site Net Zero Building". Press Information Bureau, Government of India. 25 February 2014. Retrieved 23 May 2014. 
  37. ^ "Fajr-e-Tosea Consulting Engineers Co.". 2014. Retrieved 25 June 2014. 
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  41. ^ Scandinavian Homes Ltd
  42. ^ Scandinavian Homes Ltd, Research
  43. ^ "zero2020energyhtml". Retrieved 25 June 2014. 
  44. ^ PTM Zero Energy Office Building Project. August 2006.
  45. ^ "huisvesting". 
  46. ^ Singapore’s First Zero Energy Building Launched at the Inaugural Singapore Green Building Week
  47. ^ von Muralt, Klaus (5 June 2011). "Mit "Nullenergie" in eine klimabewusste Zukunft".  
  48. ^ Why we've resigned from the Zero Carbon Taskforce WWF UK, published 2011-04-04, accessed 2014-02-10
  49. ^ Government's U turn on Zero Carbon is anti-green and anti-growth UK Green Building Council, published 11-03-23, accessed 2014-02-10
  50. ^ Building Technologies Program: Building America
  51. ^ a b "U.S. DOE – 2007 Solar Decathlon Closing Ceremony and Awards". October 2007. Retrieved 2008-04-14. 
  52. ^ "U.S. Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007". Retrieved 2007-12-23. 
  53. ^ Budget of the United States Government, FY 2008: DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY
  54. ^ Office of the Press Secretary (August 8, 2005)Fact Sheet: President Bush Signs Into Law a National Energy Plan
  55. ^ Goals of the Siebel Foundation Energy Free Home Challenge
  56. ^ Thomas Siebel Pre-Announcing Free Energy Home Challenge in Forbes Interview
  57. ^ 2008 Siebel Foundation Report
  58. ^ University of California, Berkeley – Feasibility of Achieving Zero-Net-Energy, Zero-Net-Cost Homes
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  60. ^ ASHRAE: Atlanta, Georgia:High Performance Buildings Case Study
  61. ^ U.S Energy Information Administration. EIA Commercial Buildings Energy Consumption Survey.Table C3A. Consumption and Gross Energy Intensity on for Sum of Major Fuels for All Buildings 2003: Part 3: Office Building Energy Intensity, 92.9.
  62. ^ "Assemblywoman Mary Hayashi to Present Resolution 3950296". The San Francisco Chronicle. 
  63. ^ Wyatt, John (6 November 2012). "A Good Idea". Wall and Ceiling Magazine. Retrieved January 21, 2013. 
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  65. ^ "Case Studies: Net-Zero Energy House in Evergreen, Colorado". Retrieved 25 June 2014. 
  66. ^ ZEH: Lakeland, Florida:Examining the Limits of Building Energy Efficiency Through Side-by-Side Testing
  67. ^ Gesundes Wohnen und Bauen, Beratungsstellen im In- und Ausland, Fernlehrgang Baubiologie, Weiterbildung, Gutachten, Messungen, Raumgestaltung...
  68. ^ Net Zero Is Bliss At Maharishi University In Iowa
  69. ^ The Ultimate Green Building A building that gives back to the environment
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  71. ^ 'Mission Zero' achieved in Ann Arbor | MNN – Mother Nature Network
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  73. ^ America's Oldest Net Zero Solar House | Old House Web Blog
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  75. ^ Green Builder Magazine, December 2009 Pages 31–34
  76. ^ A Net Zero Office Today
  77. ^ "Nation's First Zero-Net Energy Home Development", Mid-Hudson Energy $mart Communities newsletter, Winter 2011 Edition
  78. ^ "Green Acres: Developer to Build Zero Energy Homes in New Paltz", New Paltz Times, August 7, 2008
  79. ^ "On the House", Daily News, April 8, 2011
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  82. ^ "Zero Energy Design ABUNDANT ENERGY In Harmony With Nature". Retrieved 2011-03-27. 
  83. ^ "Phipps Conservatory - Center for Sustainable Landscapes". Phipps Conservatory. Retrieved 1 July 2014. 
  84. ^ "Net Zero Examples - GSA Sustainable Facilities Tool". Retrieved 1 July 2014. 
  85. ^ "UNT to build Zero Energy Research Laboratory". University of North Texas. 30 June 2011. Retrieved 25 June 2014. 
  86. ^ "Lab designed to study green energy technologies completed at UNT". University of North Texas. 10 April 2012. Retrieved 25 June 2014. 
  87. ^ "Putney School’s Net-Zero Fieldhouse Is Net-Zero". The Putney School. 
  88. ^ "AIA-Vermont Honor Award". The Putney School. 
  89. ^ "Zero Energy 2009 Winner". Northeast Sustainable Energy Association. 


See also

  • The Putney School's net zero Field House was opened October 10, 2009. In use for over a year, as of December 2010, the Field House used 48,374 kWh and produced a total of 51,371 kWh during the first 12 months of operation, thus performing at slightly better than net-zero.[87] Also in December, the building won an AIA-Vermont Honor Award.[88]
  • The Charlotte Vermont House designed by Pill-Maharam Architects is a verified net zero energy house completed in 2007. The project won the Northeast Sustainable Energy Association's Net Zero Energy award in 2009.[89]
  • The University of North Texas (UNT) is constructing a Zero Energy Research Laboratory[85] on its 300 acre research campus, Discovery Park, in Denton, Texas. The project is funded at over $1,150,000 and will primarily benefit students in mechanical and energy engineering (UNT became the first university to offer degrees in mechanical and energy engineering in 2006). This 1,200-square-foot structure is now competed and held ribbon cutting ceremony for the University of North Texas’ Zero Energy Laboratory on April 20, 2012.[86]
Figure 4: Zero-Energy Lab construction on UNT campus in Denton, Texas
  • In Newport, the Paul W. Crowley East Bay MET School is the first Net Zero project to be constructed in Rhode Island. This a 17,000 SF building, housing eight large classrooms, seven bathrooms and a kitchen. It will have PV panels to supply all necessary electricity for the building and a geothermal well which will be the source of heat.
Rhode Island
  • The Phipps Center for Sustainable Landscapes in Pittsburgh, PA was designed to be one of the greenest buildings in the world. It achieved Net Zero Energy Building Certification from the Living Building Challenge in February 2014 and is currently pursuing full certification.[83] The Phipps Center uses energy conservation technologies such as solar hot water collectors, carbon dioxide sensors, and daylighting, as well as renewable energy technologies to allow it to achieve Net Zero Energy status.[84]
  • Net Zero Energy Building Certification launches in 2011, with an international following. The first project, Painters Hall, is Pringle Creek’s Community Center, Café, Office, art gallery, and event venue. Originally built in the 1930s, Painters Hall was renovated by to LEED Platinum Net Zero Energy Building standards in 2010, demonstrating the potential of converting existing building stock into high‐performance, sustainable building sites. Painters Hall features simple low-­‐cost solutions for energy reduction, such as natural daylighting and passive cooling lighting, that save money and increase comfort. A district ground-­‐source geothermal loop serves the building’s GSHP for highly efficient heating and air conditioning. Excess generation from the 20.2 kW rooftop solar array offsets pumping for the neighborhoods geo loop system. Open to the public, Painters Hall is a hub for gatherings of friends, neighbors, and visitors at the heart of a neighborhood designed around nature and community.
  • The first 5,000-square-foot (460 m2) zero energy design[82] home was built in 1979 with support from President Carter's new United States Department of Energy. It relied heavily on passive solar building design for space heat, water heat and space cooling. It heated and cooled itself effectively in a climate where the summer peak temperature was 110 degrees Fahrenheit, and the winter low temperature was −10 F. It did not use active solar systems. It is a double envelope house that uses a gravity-fed natural convection air flow design to circulate passive solar heat from 1,000 square feet (93 m2) of south-facing glass on its greenhouse through a thermal buffer zone in the winter. A swimming pool in the greenhouse provided thermal mass for winter heat storage. In the summer, air from two 24-inch (610 mm) 100-foot-long (30 m) underground earth tubes is used to cool the thermal buffer zone and exhaust heat through 7200 cfm of outer-envelope roof vents.
  • Green Acres, the first true zero-net energy development in America,[77] is located in New Paltz, about 80 miles (130 km) north of New York City. Greenhill Contracting began construction on this development of 25 single family homes in summer 2008,[78] with designs by BOLDER Architecture. After a full year of occupancy, from March 2009 to March 2010, the [81][80]
  • Greenhill Contracting has built 2 luxury zero-net energy homes in Esopus, completed in 2008. One house was the first Energy Star rated zero-net energy home in the Northeast and the first registered zero-net energy home on the US Department of Energy's Builder's Challenge website. These homes were the template for Green Acres and the other zero-net energy homes that Greenhill Contracting has built, in terms of methods and materials.
  • The headquarters of Hudson Valley Clean Energy, located in Rhinebeck and completed in 2007, is the only zero-net energy, carbon-free commercial building in New York State and the entire Northeast. The building consumes less energy than it generates, using a solar electric system to generate power from the sun, geothermal heating and cooling, and solar thermal collectors to heat all its hot water.
New York
  • The 31 Tannery Project, located in Branchburg, New Jersey, serves as the corporate headquarters for Ferreira Construction, the Ferreira Group, and Noveda Technologies. The 42,000-square-foot (3,900 m2) office and shop building was constructed in 2006 and is the 1st building in the state of New Jersey to meet New Jersey's Executive Order 54. The building is also the first Net Zero Electric Commercial Building in the United States.
New Jersey
  • In 2010, architectural firm HOK worked with energy and daylighting consultant The Weidt Group to design a 170,735-square-foot (15,861.8 m2) net zero carbon emissions Class A office building prototype in St. Louis, Missouri.[76] The team chronicled its process and results on
  • The Mission Zero House[70][71] is the 110-year-old Ann Arbor home of Greenovation. TV host and Environment Report contributor Matthew Grocoff.[72] As of 2011, the home is the oldest home in America to achieve net-zero energy.[73][74] The owners are chronicling their project on Greenovation.TV and the Environment Report on public radio.
  • The Vineyard Project is a Zero Energy Home (ZEH) thanks to the Passive Solar Design, 3.3 Kws of Photovoltaics,Solar Hot Water and Geothermal Heating and Cooling. The home is pre-wired for a future wind turbine and only uses 600kwh of energy per month while a minimum of 20 kWh of electricity per day with many days net-metering backwards. The project also used ICF insulation throughout the entire house and is certified as Platinum under the LEED for Homes certification. This Project was awarded Green Builder Magazine Home of the Year 2009[75]
  • the MUM Sustainable Living Center was designed to surpass LEED Platinum qualification. The Maharishi University of Management (MUM) in Fairfield, Iowa founded by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (best known for having brought Transcendental Meditation to the West) incorporates principles of Bau Biology (a German system that focuses on creating a healthy indoor environment),[67] as well as Maharishi Vedic Architecture (an Indian system of architecture focused on the precise orientation, proportions and placement of rooms).[68] The building is one of the few in the country to qualify as net zero, and one of even fewer that can claim the banner of grid positive via its solar power system. A rainwater catchment system and on-site natural waste-water treatment likewise take the building off (sewer) grid with respect to water and waste treatment. Additional green features include natural daylighting in evey room; natural, breathable earth block walls (which were made by the program’s students), purified rainwater for both potable and non-potable water functions; and an on-site water purification and recycling system consisting of plants, algae, and bacteria.[69]
  • The 1999 side-by-side Florida Solar Energy Center Lakeland Florida demonstration project[66] was called the "Zero Energy Home." It was a first-generation university effort that significantly influenced the creation of the U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Zero Energy Home program.
  • The Moore House achieves net-zero energy usage with passive solar design, ‘tuned’ heat reflective windows, super-insulated and air-tight construction, natural daylighting, solar thermal panels for hot water and space heating, a photovoltaic (PV) system that generates more carbon-free electricity than the house requires, and an energy-recovery ventilator (ERV) for fresh air.[64] The green building strategies used by Thomas Doerr of Doerr Architecture and Ecofutures Building on the Moore House earned it an amazing and verified Home energy rating system (HERS) score of −3.[65]
  • The IDeAs Z2 Design Facility[60] is a net zero energy, zero carbon retrofit project occupied since 2007. It uses less than one fourth the energy of a typical U.S. office[61] by applying strategies such as daylighting, radiant heating/cooling with a ground-source heat pump and high energy performance lighting and computing. The remaining energy demand is met with renewable energy from its building-integrated photovoltaic array. In 2009, building owner and occupant Integrated Design Associates (IDeAs) recorded actual measured energy use intensity of 21.17 kbtu/sf-year, with 21.72 kbtu/sf-year produced, for a net of −0.55 kbtu/sf-yr. The building is also carbon neutral, with no gas connection, and with carbon offsets purchased to cover the embodied carbon of the building materials used in the renovation.
  • The Zero Net Energy Center, scheduled to open in 2013 in San Leandro, is a 46,000 square foot electrician training facility created by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 595 and the Northern California chapter of the National Electrical Contractors Association. Training will include energy efficient construction methods.[62]
  • The Green Idea House is a net zero energy, zero carbon retrofit in Hermosa Beach.[63]
  • George LeyVa Middle School Administrative Offices, occupied since Fall of 2011, is a Net Zero Energy, Net Zero Carbon Emissions building of just over 9,000 square feet. With daylighting, variable refrigerant flow HVAC, and displacement ventilation, it is designed to use half of the energy of a conventional California school building, and, through a building-integrated solar array, provides 108% of the energy needed to offset its annual electricity use. The excess helps power the remainder of the middle school campus. It is the first publicly funded NZE K–12 building in California.


If implemented, the Energy Free Home Challenge would have provided increased incentives for improved technology and consumer education about zero energy buildings coming in at the same cost as conventional housing.

The website energyfreehome redirects as of October 2012 to, and information on the $20-million Challenge is no longer available at that site.[59]

The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley participated in writing the "Feasibility of Achieving Zero-Net-Energy, Zero-Net-Cost Homes"[58] for the $20-million Energy Free Home Challenge.

Beginning in 2009, Thomas Siebel made many presentations about his Energy Free Home Challenge.[56] The Siebel Foundation Report stated that the Energy Free Home Challenge was "Launching in late 2009".[57]

The plan included funding to build the top ten entries at $250,000 each, a $10 million first prize, and then a total of 100 such homes to be built and sold to the public.

In 2007, the philanthropic Siebel Foundation created the Energy Free Home Foundation. The goal was to offer $20 million in global incentive prizes to design and build a 2,000 square foot (186 square meter) three-bedroom, two bathroom home with (1) net-zero annual utility bills that also has (2) high market appeal, and (3) costs no more than a conventional home to construct.[55]

Energy Free Home Challenge

By Executive Order 13514, U.S. President Barack Obama mandated that by 2015, 15% of existing Federal buildings conform to new energy efficiency standards and 100% of all new Federal buildings be Zero-Net-Energy by 2030.

The Solar Energy Tax Credits have been extended until the end of 2016. Solar power in the United States

The 2008 Solar America Initiative funded research and development into future development of cost-effective Zero Energy Homes in the amount of $148 million in 2008.[53][54]

The U.S. Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007[52] created 2008 through 2012 funding for a new solar air conditioning research and development program, which should soon demonstrate multiple new technology innovations and mass production economies of scale.

DOE is also awarding $4.1 million to two regional building technology application centers that will accelerate the adoption of new and developing energy-efficient technologies. The two centers, located at the University of Central Florida and Washington State University, will serve 17 states, providing information and training on commercially available energy-efficient technologies.[51]

In the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), the Florida Solar Energy Center (FSEC), Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), and Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL). From fiscal year 2008 to 2012, DOE plans to award $40 million to four Building America teams, the Building Science Corporation; IBACOS; the Consortium of Advanced Residential Buildings; and the Building Industry Research Alliance, as well as a consortium of academic and building industry leaders. The funds will be used to develop net-zero-energy homes that consume at 50% to 70% less energy than conventional homes.[51]

Figure 3: Net Zero Court zero emissions office building prototype in St. Louis, Missouri

United States

  • BedZED development
  • Hockerton Housing Project Hockerton Housing Project

In December 2006, the government announced that by 2016 all new homes in England will be zero energy buildings. To encourage this, an exemption from Stamp Duty Land Tax is planned. In Wales the plan is for the standard to be met earlier in 2011, although it is looking more likely that the actual implementation date will be 2012. However, as a result of a unilateral change of policy published at the time of the March 2011 budget, a more limited policy is now planned which, it is estimated, will only mitigate two thirds of the emissions of a new home.[48][49]

United Kingdom

United Arab Emirates

The Swiss MINERGIE-A-Eco label certifies zero energy buildings. The first building with this label, a single-family home, was completed in Mühleberg in 2011.[47]


Singapore's first zero-energy building was launched at the inaugural Singapore Green Building Week.[46]


In February 2009, the Research Council of Norway assigned The Faculty of Architecture and Fine Art at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology to host the Research Centre on Zero Emission Buildings (ZEB), which is one of eight new national Centres for Environment-friendly Energy Research (FME). The main objective of the FME-centres is to contribute to the development of good technologies for environmentally friendly energy and to raise the level of Norwegian expertise in this area. In addition, they should help to generate new industrial activity and new jobs. Over the next eight years, the FME-Centre ZEB will develop competitive products and solutions for existing and new buildings that will lead to market penetration of zero emission buildings related to their production, operation and demolition.


In September 2006, the Dutch headquarters of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in Zeist was opened. This earth-friendly building gives back more energy than it uses. All materials in the building were tested against strict requirements laid down by the WWF and the architect.[45]


In October 2007, the Malaysia Energy Centre (PTM) successfully completed the development and construction of the PTM Zero Energy Office (ZEO) Building. The building has been designed to be a super-energy-efficient building using only 286 kW·h/day. The renewable energy – photovoltaic combination is expected to result in a net zero energy requirement from the grid. The building is currently undergoing a fine tuning process by the local energy management team. Findings are expected to be published in a year.[44]


In 2012 Cork institute of Technology started renovation work on its 1974 building stock to develop a net zero energy building retrofit.[43] The exemplar project will become Ireland's first zero energy testbed offering a post occupancy evaluation of actual building performance against design benchmarks.

In 2005, Scandinavian Homes[41] launched the world's first standardised passive house in Ireland, this concept makes the design and construction of passive house a standardised process. Conventional low energy construction techniques have been refined and modelled on the PHPP (Passive House Design Package) to create the standardised passive house. Building offsite allows high precision techniques to be utilised and reduces the possibility of errors in construction.
In 2009 the same company started a project to use 23,000 liters of water in a seasonal storage tank,[42] heated up by evacuated solar tubes throughout the year, with the aim to provide the house with enough heat throughout the winter months thus eliminating the need for any electrical heat to keep the house comfortably warm. The system is monitored and documented by a research team from The University of Ulster and the results will be included in part of a PhD thesis.


Also an example of the new generation of zero energy office buildings is the 24-story OIIC [39] Office Tower, which is started in 2011, as the OIIC Company headquarters. It uses both modest energy efficiency, and a big distributed renewable energy generation from both solar and wind. It is managed by Rahgostar Naft Company in Tehran, Iran. The tower is receiving economic support from government subsidies that are now funding many significant fossil-fuel-free efforts.[40]

In 2011, Payesh Energy House (PEH) or Khaneh Payesh Niroo by a collaboration of Fajr-e-Toseah Consultant Engineering Company [37] and Vancouver Green Homes Ltd] under management of Payesh Energy Group (EPG) launched the first Net-Zero passive house in Iran. This concept makes the design and construction of PEH a sample model and standardized process for mass production by MAPSA.[38]


India's first net zero building is Indira Paryavaran Bhawan, located in New Delhi. Features include passive solar building design and other green technologies.[36]


  • Technische Universität Darmstadt won first place in the international zero energy design 2007 Solar Decathlon competition, with a passivhaus design (Passive house) + renewables, scoring highest in the Architecture, Lighting, and Engineering contests[34]
  • Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE, Freiburg im Breisgau[35]
  • Net zero energy- , energy-plus or climate-neutral buildings in the next generation of electricity grids


Strategic Research Centre on Zero Energy Buildings was in 2009 established at Aalborg University by a grant from the Danish Council for Strategic Research (DSF), the Programme Commission for Sustainable Energy and Environment, and in cooperation with the Technical University of Denmark, Danish Technological Institute, Danfoss A/S, Velux A/S, Saint Gobain Isover A/S, and The Danish Construction Association, the section of aluminium facades. The purpose of the centre is through development of integrated, intelligent technologies for the buildings, which ensure considerable energy conservations and optimal application of renewable energy, to develop zero energy building concepts. In cooperation with the industry, the centre will create the necessary basis for a long-term sustainable development in the building sector.


  • One example of the new generation of zero energy office buildings is the 71-story Pearl River Tower, which opened in 2009, as the Guangdong Company headquarters. It uses both modest energy efficiency, and a big distributed renewable energy generation from both solar and wind. Designed by Skidmore Owings Merrill LLP in Guangzhou, China,[33] the tower is receiving economic support from government subsidies that are now funding many significant conventional fossil-fuel (and nuclear energy) energy reduction efforts.
  • Dongtan Eco-City near Shanghai



In Belgium there is a project with the ambition to make the Belgian city Leuven climate-neutral in 2030:


Between 2008 and 2013, researchers from Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Korea, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom and USA were working together in the joint research program “Towards Net Zero Energy Solar Buildings” under the umbrella of International Energy Agency (IEA) Solar Heating and Cooling Program (SHC) Task 40 / Energy in Buildings and Communities (EBC, formerly ECBCS) Annex 52 [4] in order to bring the Net ZEB concept to market viability. The joint international research and demonstration activities are divided in subtasks. The objective is to develop a common understanding, a harmonized international applicable definition framework (Subtask A, see definitions methodology “Net Zero Energy Building” above), design process tools (Subtask B), advanced building design and technology solutions and industry guidelines for Net ZEBs (Subtask C). The scope encompasses new and existing residential and non-residential buildings located within the climatic zones of the participating countries.

International initiatives


Many green building certification programs do not require a building to have net zero energy use, only to reduce energy use a few percentage points below the minimum required by law. The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification developed by the U.S. Green Building Council, and Green Globes, involve check lists that are measurement tools, not design tools. Inexperienced designers or architects may cherry-pick points to meet a target certification level, even though those points may not be the best design choices for a specific building or climate. In November, 2011, the International Living Future Institute developed the Net Zero Energy Building Certification. Designed as part of the Living Building Challenge, Net Zero Energy Building Certification is simple, cost effective and critical for integrity and transparency.


Because of the design challenges and sensitivity to a site that are required to efficiently meet the energy needs of a building and occupants with renewable energy (solar, wind, geothermal, etc.), designers must apply holistic design principles, and take advantage of the free naturally occurring assets available, such as passive solar orientation, natural ventilation, daylighting, thermal mass, and night time cooling.

The goal of green building and sustainable architecture is to use resources more efficiently and reduce a building's negative impact on the environment.[26] Zero energy buildings achieve one key green-building goal of completely or very significantly reducing energy use and greenhouse gas emissions for the life of the building. Zero energy buildings may or may not be considered "green" in all areas, such as reducing waste, using recycled building materials, etc. However, zero energy, or net-zero buildings do tend to have a much lower ecological impact over the life of the building compared with other "green" buildings that require imported energy and/or fossil fuel to be habitable and meet the needs of occupants.

Zero energy building versus green building

  • initial costs can be higher – effort required to understand, apply, and qualify for ZEB subsidies
  • very few designers or builders have the necessary skills or experience to build ZEBs[17]
  • possible declines in future utility company renewable energy costs may lessen the value of capital invested in energy efficiency
  • new photovoltaic solar cells equipment technology price has been falling at roughly 17% per year – It will lessen the value of capital invested in a solar electric generating system – Current subsidies will be phased out as photovoltaic mass production lowers future price
  • challenge to recover higher initial costs on resale of building, but new energy rating systems are being introduced gradually. [25]
  • while the individual house may use an average of net zero energy over a year, it may demand energy at the time when peak demand for the grid occurs. In such a case, the capacity of the grid must still provide electricity to all loads. Therefore, a ZEB may not reduce the required power plant capacity.
  • without an optimised thermal envelope the embodied energy, heating and cooling energy and resource usage is higher than needed. ZEB by definition do not mandate a minimum heating and cooling performance level thus allowing oversized renewable energy systems to fill the energy gap.
  • solar energy capture using the house envelope only works in locations unobstructed from the South. The solar energy capture cannot be optimized in South (for northern hemisphere, or North for southern Hemisphere) facing shade or wooded surroundings.


  • isolation for building owners from future energy price increases
  • increased comfort due to more-uniform interior temperatures (this can be demonstrated with comparative isotherm maps)
  • reduced requirement for energy austerity
  • reduced total cost of ownership due to improved energy efficiency
  • reduced total net monthly cost of living
  • improved reliability – photovoltaic systems have 25-year warranties and seldom fail during weather problems – the 1982 photovoltaic systems on the Walt Disney World EPCOT Energy Pavilion are still working fine today, after going through three recent hurricanes
  • extra cost is minimized for new construction compared to an afterthought retrofit
  • higher resale value as potential owners demand more ZEBs than available supply
  • the value of a ZEB building relative to similar conventional building should increase every time energy costs increase
  • future legislative restrictions, and carbon emission taxes/penalties may force expensive retrofits to inefficient buildings


Advantages and disadvantages

The zero-energy building concept has been a progressive evolution from other low-energy building designs. Among these, the Canadian R-2000 and the German passive house standards have been internationally influential. Collaborative government demonstration projects, such as the superinsulated Saskatchewan House, and the International Energy Agency's Task 13, have also played their part.

Those who commissioned construction of passive houses and zero-energy homes (over the last three decades) were essential to iterative, incremental, cutting-edge, technology innovations. Much has been learned from many significant successes, and a few expensive failures.

Influential zero-energy and low-energy buildings


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