Corn, Route 66, Abraham Lincoln and soon Net Zero Energy Buildings

This guest blog was written by Gabriela Martin, Program Director, Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation.

Think of Illinois and you likely think of corn, soybeans, Route 66 and Abraham Lincoln. Maybe also the Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower). But do you think of net zero energy buildings? We hope that soon you will!

U.S. residential and commercial buildings represent over 40% of the country’s energy consumption — that does not need to be the case. In May 2016, the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation (ICECF) launched its Net Zero Energy Building Program that awards grants of up to $1 million to defray the costs of building for net zero energy performance. The Foundation is looking for exemplary buildings that demonstrate net zero energy buildings are feasible and economical and will encourage others to follow suit.

Photo Credit: Wight & Company

How does ICECF’s Net Zero Energy Building Program work? Funds are available to 501c3 organizations and local government entities, including colleges and universities, for new construction or retrofit net zero energy building projects in Illinois. At the time of application, projects must still be in the design phase and cannot have started construction. Buildings must receive certification through Passive House US (PHIUS) or the International Living Futures Institute Living Building Challenge (LBC); education must be a strong component, and load specific monitoring that will be publicly available is required.

The application process begins with the submission of a Request for Ideas (RFI) that provides an overview of the project. Staff follows up to request additional information. Submission of Pre- and Full proposals is by invitation only. If awarded, grants are paid in three installments: 30% upon start of construction, 30% upon occupancy and 40% upon 12 months of demonstrated net zero energy performance. Please visit our website for more program details at:

For net zero energy buildings there is, naturally, a focus on actual building performance. Building owners seem to embrace this approach. The Foundation hopes to make load-specific (real-time, when possible) data for its projects available along with cost and building information. Our hope is that this transparency will benefit all who want to learn more about net zero energy buildings.

If you are curious about the program, we have received 33 RFIs to date. Fifteen dropped out for a variety of reasons including lack of project funding and/or lack of Foundation interest. Five projects have been funded and are under construction. Thirteen more are in the pipeline.

Here are some details on the five net zero energy projects currently under construction.
Table: Five Net Zero Energy Projects

For the 13 projects still in the pipeline, here is their distribution by sectors:

Table: 13 Projects by Sector

Stay tuned – we hope to be back in 2019 with updates on the program and the projects currently under construction. And in case you are wondering – while our focus is on net zero energy, we are already looking beyond to net positive buildings.


About Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation (ICECF):
ICECF is a private Foundation located in Chicago, IL. It was created in 1999 with a $225 million endowment from Commonwealth Edison. The Foundation makes grants to 501c3 organizations and local government entities to support renewable energy, energy efficiency and preserve natural areas.