Zero Energy Design Resources

This section includes resources on feasibility studies of zero energy on district, state, and national levels; cost studies which address the challenge of zero energy construction within budget; means of financing a zero energy project and incentive programs to support this; and technologies which support zero energy design.

As a result of advances in construction technologies, renewable energy systems, and other research, ultra-low, and zero energy design is becoming more achievable. Studies find that zero energy is technically feasible for most building types. Methods to achieve zero energy vary by building type, size, and location. In all cases, the key strategy is to reduce energy loads as much as possible before introducing renewables. Although much of this technology is widely available, often at a cost comparable to code-minimum systems, many stakeholders still see cost as a major barrier to zero energy buildings. However, studies show that zero energy is a cost effective investment – in many cases a better investment than a code minimum building, and it is even more justifiable when benefits such as health and environmental quality are taken into account. Many financing and incentive options are available from a variety of sources to encourage zero energy design and market growth.

Select case studies and reports that address a variety of barriers to zero energy building.
A curated selection of resources that support the financial feasibility of zero energy buildings.
Choice resources highlight best practice energy efficient design strategies and technologies integrated into zero energy buildings.

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Architecture at 2020 Technical Resources

The Architecture at Zero offers a collection of technical resources for zero net energy and otherwise energy efficient buildings including guides on how to integrate energy modeling into the design process, energy modeling tools, and more.

Building Commissioning Association OPR Outline

Building Commissioning Association's template owners project requirements is the industry standard for developing a guidance document, during design, to detail the functional requirements of a project and the expectations of how it will be used and operated.

Zero Energy Districts Accelerator

DOE's Zero Energy Districts Accelerator program supports the development of a District-wide energy master plans, governance and business case models, and real estate development pathway for a Zero Energy District. Partners work with community stakeholders and identify the best practices of considering well-defined energy performance goals and incentives for the entire building and district lifecycle.

Electrification & Community Microgrid Ready (ECMR)

Clean Coalition created this guideline for the facilitation of future electrification and expansion of micro-grids. It provides readers with definitions and design features that will allow for full electrification and on-site solar generation and ultimately expand micro-grid development. 

The Power of Zero: Optimizing Value for Next Generation Green

This cost analysis uses energy benchmarking, rather than a comparative, analysis approach; the results are readily understandable and evaluate the long-term costs and savings associated with building green. This report includes a brief discussion of cost analyses to date, presentation of statistical analysis of cost and energy data, case studies, discussion of community scale approaches to sustainability, lessons learned, and a literature survey/bibliography.

UC Carbon Neutral Buildings Cost Study

This study, by Point Energy Innovations, compares the capital and operating costs of building new buildings with gas-based heating systems that require offsetting natural gas with procured biogas and/or carbon offsets, to building all-electric based systems, which can be supplied with onsite renewable generation or purchased 100% renewable electricity (RECs).

Zero Net Energy Case Study Buildings, Volume 3

The third volume in this series of books, Zero Net Energy Case Study Buildings, is similar to Volume 1 and Volume 2 in that it contains a series of detailed case studies of well-designed, recently-constructed buildings that use an annual total of zero energy. Included are descriptions of the design process, the design strategies utilized for each building type, the renewable energy systems, the results of energy modeling and comparison with post-occupancy energy measurements. Additionally, Volume 3 provides information in some new ways.

Zero Net Energy Case Study Buildings, Volume 2 

Volume 2 of Zero Net Energy Case Study Buildings, like Volume 1, provides a detailed discussion and analysis of a number of exemplary buildings designed and that performed at zero-net-energy use over the course of a year. There are five buildings documented in this publication. In the time between the occupancy of the buildings in Volume 1 and Volume 2, roughly three to seven years, there were advances in building technologies and the dissemination of information about successful strategies for zero-net-energy (ZNE) design.

Zero Net Energy Case Study Buildings, Volume 1

This resource provides information about six non-residential buildings designed and built to perform at zero net energy (ZNE) consumption over the course of a year. Each of these buildings has proven to be successful at achieving that level of performance for at least one year of post-construction occupancy. As the case studies illustrate, architects and engineers generally have the skills and experience to design ZNE buildings, if the goal of ZNE is embraced early in the process and involves the related disciplines with each decision.

Assessment of the Technical Potential for Achieving Net Zero-Energy Buildings in the Commercial Sector

This report summarizes the findings from research conducted at National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) to assess the technical potential for zero net energy (ZNE) building technologies and practices to reduce the impact of commercial buildings on the US energy system. In this study, NREL researchers developed quantitative predictions to answer the questions: How low can you practically go in terms of energy use? To what extent can rooftop photovoltaics supply the remaining energy needs of commercial buildings? The analysis is limited to the technical potential and does not assess market penetration or make detailed projections for how the various commercial building subsectors might evolve by 2025.

Feasibility Study for a Net-Zero Campus Retrofit

This paper first discusses a path to zero energy for the Akron Zoo campus that may be a model for other commercial facilities. This path includes aggressive energy-efficiency combined with on-site renewable energy installations. Next, the analysis focuses on major implementation constraints, particularly on limited usable space for renewable energy generation. Further, economic comparisons between energy-efficiency and renewable energy are used to determine optimal economic decisions. Next it presents analysis of possible energy efficiency opportunities and how researchers arrived at unexpected conclusions. Finally, this paper presents conclusions that support the Akron Zoo’s capability to achieve zero energy status.

Net Zero Energy Feasibility Study Full Report

This study, prepared by Maclay Architects, explores the financial feasibility of zero energy buildings in Vermont. The analysis provided here demonstrates that zero energy and zero energy ready buildings are a viable and cost effective investment, as compared to code compliant buildings. Using financing for the additional capital costs to build a zero energy building, there are net savings from year one for all building types in this study without applying any rebates or incentives except for the office/manufacturing building. The zero energy office/manufacturing building is also a better investment than a code building and will provide cumulating saving beyond the 20 years shown in this analysis. When considering energy cost volatility, health, and other environmental benefits the office/manufacturing building is even more of a prudent investment.

Parametric Analysis Tool to Study the Effects of Energy Conservation Measures on Building Energy Use Across California

This study set out to develop a less computationally intensive, interpolation approach based on EnergyPlus results to create a standalone tool which could accurately estimate the energy use intensity (EUI) and potential for zero energy of typical commercial buildings in different climate zones. The purpose of the tool is to assist in a study to investigate the EUI of the California building stock. This paper presents the motivation, functionality, and methodology behind the parametric analysis tool.

The Technical Feasibility of Zero Net Energy Buildings in California

This study is a forward-looking stress test of the zero net energy (ZNE) new construction goals set forth by California’s energy agencies. It assesses the potential performance of best-in-class building designs in 2020 for both residential and commercial structures. The analysis refined and simulated an integrated package of efficiency features and on-site renewable energy systems that could move each of twelve prototype buildings as close as is reasonably possible to ZNE. It finds that ZNE buildings will be technically feasible for much of California’s new construction market by 2020.

Making the Case for Building to Zero Carbon

The CAGBC conducted a study to address the knowledge gap in research on Zero Carbon Buildings. They evaluated financial feasibility and impact of constructing new ZBCs across 7 building types and 6 communities. This study demonstrates that Canada can significantly and economically advance its current GHG reduction targets, and those advised by the IPCC, by taking a Zero Carbon Building (ZCB) approach in the real estate sector.

OSCAR

APTI's OSCAR provides guidance for sustainable upgrades to existing buildings. OSCAR provides a process and a set of measures with many examples that are most appropriate to existing (and perhaps historically significant) buildings. OSCAR will illustrate how building components work together to create a holistic intervention strategy for a whole building. OSCAR does so by helping build an informational model of a building. At the end users will have a printable report, documenting the decisions made along the way.

LEED Zero

LEED Zero is a third party certification program that recognizes buildings or spaces operating with net zero carbon emissions from energy consumption and occupant transportation to carbon emissions avoided or offset over a period of 12 months.

Transforming the Residential Water Heating Market at Scale

The CEE is a consortium for Energy Efficiency talks about residential market transformation and its potential to save energy and carbon. The new CEESM Residential Water Heating Initiative provides a binational strategy that program administrators can implement to increase the sales, availability and installation of high efficiency electric and gas water heaters, transforming the market towards efficiency.

Department of Energy and Energy STAR guidance on HPWHs

This brief by the DOE summarizes Heat Pump Water Heater (HPWH) technology, including how it works, selection options, and potential savings. This summary is a good resource for somebody who in new to HPWHs and is trying to briefly familiarize with the technology.

Heat Pump Water Heaters for Demand Response and Energy Storage

Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance (NEEA) initiated an in-the-field demonstration of residential Heat Pump Water Heaters (HWPH), evaluating the technology’s capability to provide demand response and energy storage to the electric grid. As per their findings, HPWHs can participate in demand management programs designed to either reduce peak demand and/or provide energy storage services to the grid.

Issue Brief: Reducing Energy Burden for Low-income Residents in Multifamily Housing with Solar Energy

This Issue Brief from DOE discusses some of the key considerations and related opportunities for deploying solar for low-income multifamily housing. In particular, program administrators may need to consider how differences in multifamily housing financing structure and type can influence resident eligibility as well as resulting impacts on energy burden in both on-site and off-site solar installations. This issue brief touches on these considerations and profile two multifamily housing examples that demonstrate how state and local entities have deployed solar energy (photovoltaics) on behalf of low-income residents

Guide: Best Practices for Achieving Zero Over Time for Building Portfolios

This guide, by Rocky Mountain Institute, outlines the zero-over-time (ZOT) approach and how it focuses on cost-effective energy efficiency and renewable energy by prioritizing projects that pay back quickly in the short term, while aligning larger energy efficiency projects with major building life-cycle events, like equipment upgrades. The ZOT approach sets commercial building portfolios on a financially viable path to achieve net zero energy.

Baby it’s Cold Outside

This report developed by Urban Green Council details findings based on computer models created for six representative building categories in New York to find indoor temperatures after a blackout. Findings indicate that the city needs more high-performing buildings that could give protection against severe outdoor temperatures for a week or more during a blackout. High-performing buildings provide the best protection against blackouts during severe weather and would maintain habitable temperatures for an entire week. These new and renovated buildings use readily available construction practices such as installing better windows, adding insulation and eliminating drafts.

PNNL: Research Highlights: Lighting Goes to the Head of the Class

This brief outlines PNNL's research findings for the performance of LED lighting systems in three Texas classrooms. At the end of the school year, PNNL’s evaluation showed at least 58 percent energy savings overall for the LED lighting systems compared with the fluorescents. These savings came from the greater efficiency of LED lights. Even more savings, beyond the 58% attained with solely LEDs, can be achieved with the ability to dim the lights. Additionally, this brief includes how the installation of LED systems do more than enhance energy savings, and can provide learning environment benefits for educators and students.

University of California Strategies for Decarbonization: Replacing Natural Gas

This report is the result of an independent academic effort focusing on how University of California can translate its experience into replicable and scalable emission control strategies. The research team was designed to ensure that analysis and proposals were rooted in the practical realities of implementation within one of the world’s largest university complexes. Contributors thus include scholars and practitioners from a wide variety of backgrounds in the natural and social sciences and engineering, in addition to operations staff at several of the main UC campuses. They used literature review and new benchmarking studies to reach the outlined conclusions.

Toward Zero Net Energy (ZNE) Super High-Rise Commercial Buildings

This CABA White Paper examines the driving force for zero net energy buildings, along with examining various definitions and technologies. The paper then presents a concept for a feasible net-zero solution applied to a building cluster consisting of an office building and homes.

SolarResilient

This tool estimates the required rating and physical size of grid-connected photovoltaic (PV) and battery storage to provide power for extended periods during a large scale grid power outage. SolarResilient is designed for buildings that form part of a cities resilience strategy - it allows building owners and city departments to develop equipment sizing before embarking on more detailed studies. When used on a portfolio of buildings, optimum performing scenarios can be selected to provide a holistic energy security strategy for a city or county.

Deep Decarbonization in High Renewable Future

This study evaluates long-term energy scenarios in California through 2050 using the California PATHWAYS model. PATHWAYS model is an economy wide, technology-specific scenario tool developed by Energy and Environmental Economics (E3). The PATHWAYS scenarios leverage prior research and analysis from other California state energy agencies and from E3, building upon and expanding E3’s prior work. These scenarios investigate options and costs to achieve a 40 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, relative to 1990 levels. The results of this study advances the understanding of what is required for technology deployment and other GHG mitigation strategies if California is to meet its long-term climate goals. This report provides researchers and policy makers with information about key choices that could lower the costs of meeting the state’s GHG reduction goals.

Zero Net Energy Technology Application Guide: Luminaire Level Lighting Control

This guide provides an overview of luminaire level lighting control (LLLC), a lighting control with continuous dimming capability which is a fundamental efficiency strategy for projects targeting low or zero net energy. This guide describes the system, features and benefits, energy performance from both modeled and measured results, application considerations, costs and trends. It also includes a project profile and related resources. Applications include offices, corridors, industrial warehouses, retail and parking structures.

Zero Net Energy Building Controls: Characteristics, Energy Impacts and Lessons

The controls aspect of commercial buildings has been frequently cited as the linchpin to creating, and maintaining, buildings that perform for comfort and for  optimum energy use. The building and system-level controls can be a cornerstone that secures performance, or a weak link that creates challenges for design teams and operators. Zero energy buildings are now at the forefront of energy efficient design and operations, yet little is known regarding energy-related control systems in these advanced structures. This project, from CABA and conducted by NBI, focused on the control aspects in zero energy buildings. The objective was to characterize monitoring and control systems in zero energy buildings focused on three key areas from the designer and user experience. The research outcomes will be widely published and used to influence controls design, installation, operations and occupant engagement.

Next Generation Technologies, Barriers & Industry Recommendations for Commercial Buildings

This report summarizes the barriers and recommendations from the five technology working groups of the Commercial Building Consortium (CBC) and is a companion summary analysis to a Commercial Buildings Technology Inventory. In development of the Commercial Buildings Technology Inventory, the CBC examined existing information sources, including published and gray literature, DOE and National Laboratory plans, industry-sponsored research programs, utility research on emerging technologies, and other sources. The CBC recognizes that there are still remaining gaps in the inventory to address in subsequent annual updates. A related technology screening effort currently underway through DOE and the National Labs. The CBC intends to provide industry input into that process and build off of results from that technology screening to further enhance a comprehensive next-generation technologies inventory.

Energy Performance of Commercial Buildings with Radiant Heating and Cooling

The main goal of this research was to determine the building characteristics of projects with radiant heating and cooling and assess their real world energy use compared to standard benchmarks for building energy performance. The report describes the general building characteristics including type, size, location and climate zone of 23 buildings in North America with radiant distribution systems for both heating and cooling the predominant area of the building. The study found that almost all of the 23 buildings outperformed peer buildings and national benchmarks, suggesting that radiant systems are part of the integrated approach that can lead to low energy consumption in commercial buildings.

Transforming Multifamily Housing: Fannie Mae’s Green Initiative and Energy Star for Multifamily

Rising utility rates create financial risk for owners and reduce affordability for tenants of multifamily properties. To combat this challenge and multifamily properties’ impact on the natural environment, the Fannie Mae Multifamily Mortgage Business (Fannie Mae) launched the Green Initiative. By 2014, Fannie Mae had financed $130 million in Green Preservation Plus loans or in loans that are backed by properties with a Green Building certification. These loans are securitized as Green Mortgage Backed Securities (Green MBS), a securitization standard set by Fannie Mae. Green Preservation Plus provides up to an 85% loan to value ratio for owners of affordable housing to transform their property through energy efficiency, water efficiency, and general property improvements.

Green Energy Money: Financial Solutions to Value & Power a Sustainable Future

Green Energy Money (GEM) is partnering and connecting with US and Canadian stakeholders to offer a High-Performance Building and Green Energy Mortgage (GEM Loan®) Program, the GEM Loan Hi-PP Initiative. GEM has beta-tested its appraisal and lending practices and methods with several national and regional mortgage lending institutions and banks. This partnership has successfully funded over $37M in loan volume, 78 units; during a 36-month Beta Program for high-performance projects where over 50 percent were near-to-net-zero homes.

Financing Energy Improvements on Utility Bills: Technical Appendix Case Studies

This Technical Appendix, produced by the State and Local Energy Efficiency Action Network, provides domestic and international on-bill case studies to supplement the Financing Energy Improvements on Utility Bills report which reviews existing on-bill programs and offers insights on design issues. Ten domestic and two international case studies are included.

DSIRE: Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency

DSIRE is the most comprehensive source of information on incentives and policies that support renewables and energy efficiency in the United States. Established in 1995, DSIRE is operated by the N.C. Clean Energy Technology Center at North Carolina State University and is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy.

Better Buildings Financing Navigator

This list of Better Buildings Financial Allies represents market-leading financing companies that have committed to funding energy efficiency projects. Allies are sorted by the financing options offered and include detailed descriptions and contact information for beginning a project.

Best Practice Guidelines for Residential PACE Financing Programs

This document provides updated best practice guidelines to help implement the Policy Framework for PACE Financing Programs, initially announced in 2009. Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing programs allow state and local governments, where permitted by state law, to extend the use of land-secured financing to fund energy efficiency, renewable energy, and water conservation improvements on private property.

Zero Net Energy Building + Homes: Analyzing the Business Case (Chapter 4)

This article looks at the financial justification for a zero energy building. LEED is becoming the new normal in business, and zero energy may be soon to follow. The author addresses the cost of a zero energy building, benefits that the owner receives, financing options, and barriers to the affordability of zero energy.

SunShot Vision Study

The objective of the SunShot Vision Study is to provide an in-depth assessment of the potential for solar technologies to meet a significant share of electricity demand in the United States during the next several decades. Specifically, it explores a future in which the price of solar technologies declines by about 75% between 2010 and 2020, in line with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) SunShot Initiative’s targets. As a result of this price reduction, solar technologies are projected to play an increasingly important role in meeting electricity demand over the next 20-40 years, satisfying roughly 14% of U.S. electricity demand by 2030 and 27% by 2050. In terms of technology, the SunShot Initiative and this report both focus on photovoltaics and concentrating solar power.

Net Zero and Living Building Challenge Financial Study: A Cost Comparison Report for Buildings in the District of Columbia

The purpose of the Net Zero and Living Building Challenge Financial Study: A Cost Comparison Report for Buildings in the District of Columbia was twofold. First, to investigate costs, benefits and approaches necessary to improve building performance in the District of Columbia from LEED platinum to zero energy, zero water and Living Building status. Second, to advise district government on policy drivers related to deep green buildings and to analyze the opportunities for the district to offer incentives to advance most rapidly toward zero energy, zero water and Living Buildings.

Implementation Model: Least Cost Procurement Strategy

Rhode Island established the principle of Least Cost Procurement as the key strategy to achieve the state’s ambitious energy savings and economic development goals. Least Cost Procurement prioritizes energy efficiency in state energy planning by directing the utility to invest in energy efficiency first whenever it proves cost-effective and less expensive than energy supply. Best practices in stakeholder engagement, utility motivation, sustainable funding, and program evaluation support energy efficiency as a driver of Rhode Island’s energy and economic success.

Cost Control Strategies for Zero Energy Buildings

The prevailing industry perception is that zero energy is cost prohibitive and suitable only for showcase projects with atypical, large budgets; however, there is mounting evidence that zero energy can, in many cases, be achieved within typical construction budgets. To help users maximize the opportunity for cost control in their projects, this guide from NREL provides the following content: detailed discussion of recommended cost control strategies which are grouped by project phase and accompanied by industry examples, recommendations for balancing key decision-making factors, and quick reference tables that can help design teams apply strategies to specific projects.

California Zero Net Energy Buildings Cost Study

This study explores the cost-effectiveness of zero energy buildings in the current residential and commercial marketplace through a review of literature, case studies, and interviews with zero energy experts familiar with residential, commercial, and community-scale projects. The falling costs of photovoltaics, advanced energy modeling capabilities, expanded market awareness of zero energy, changing social attitudes, public policies, and incentive programs have increased the demand for energy efficient buildings. This study provides a breakdown of incremental costs for residential and commercial buildings, as well as strategies for designing and constructing zero energy.

Energy Efficiency and Economic Opportunity

The ACEE developed this factsheet to detail the economic benefits of energy efficiency, and the opportunities that exist to further these benefits. ACEE argues for programs aimed at solving economic inequalities, as well as energy efficiency. These programs will have benefits that go beyond environmental concerns to address social and economic concerns.

Zero Energy Project Guide

A process for planning, designing, constructing, and operating your new zero energy building. Zero Energy Project Guide combines the steps that successful zero energy (ZE) building teams implement with ZE tools and resources. The guide outlines the importance of gaining stakeholder awareness, setting energy goals and targets, thoughtful team selection, finance and incentive opportunities, smart early design/design and construction considerations, project hand off, and operation and verification processes. It is complete with a high-level checklist that teams can reference throughout the life of a project. This guide is a useful project for anyone considering a ZE project or who is already engaged.