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Why Are Net Zero Energy Buildings Important?

How net-zero impact buildings positively impact the world


A progressive agenda for the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions and the use of combustion fuels within the built environment is defined in one short, elegant sentence. In short: what you use, produce. With this crisp concept, a number of influential powers and ideas are brought to bear on some of the most complex issues of our time.


Net Zero Energy buildings and cities, reaffirmed in more basic words, produce as much energy as they consume during the year. The vast majority of NZE buildings are linked to the grid, with a meter rotating back and forth: a surplus is generated when the building produces more than it consumes, and it draws from that surplus when it consumes more than it produces. At the end of the year, it is net to zero use, or theoretically net positive, at a minimum. In practice, NZE buildings have to substantially reduce energy consumption from normal consumption, typically a reduction of 60-80 percent. Energy production on-site offsets the remaining consumption.


Such a groundbreaking and influential idea is net-zero energy since it is one of the main alternatives to carbon neutrality and the reduction of the use of fossil fuels. "When we ask the Institute 's favorite questions," What is the end game? "and," What if it was done by everybody? The end result will be massively optimistic at net-zero energy. Energy usage in buildings is the biggest single contributor to our carbon footprint by industry, about 40%, depending on the calculation. If all existing buildings were converted to net-zero energy and all new buildings were designed to a net zero level, the collective carbon footprint of society will be reduced by that number.


It is more than a neat efficiency exercise to return our cities to net-zero electricity. Protecting those most affected by climate change and ocean acidification, those in the developing world and future generations is a moral imperative. It removes one of the key drivers of military action (energy supply acquisition and protection) and local wilderness destruction in the form of impacts of extraction.


Net zero energy stands as a portal within the context of the International Living Future Institute's thought regarding human growth and living in restorative harmony with the Earth. Energy is a key component of life in all its forms; living in a way that draws strength from within, instead of sharing resources without positive return from others, is the way of nature.


Most of the Western historical development has overlooked this trend of synergistic exchange at our peril. The first opening to a new way of approaching what we make and in which we live is net-zero energy, raising the question: how can our behavior add to rather than detract from the energy supply? At its heart, net positive energy is a biomimetic expression of the flow of energy within nature.


Net zero energy reflects old-time, conventional ideals in less abstract but more realistic, metaphorical terms.


Living within your means Living in a way that does not surpass what you have is one of the most conservative ideals. You are not eating your corn seeds, and you are taking responsibility for yourself and your neighbors.


Thou shalt not steal The unfortunate reality is that through power relationships that surpass a just exchange between the beneficiaries and the donors, much of our resources have been received. At this point, perhaps most convincingly, it is evident that we are taking the heritage of our descendants from them, as they will bear the brunt of our irresponsibility in the use of energy and its impacts.


A penny saved is a penny earned Our grandparents’ generation knew the value of simply using less. Each watt of savings possible is squeezed out by net zero energy buildings and communities. These buildings are not only robust in their relationship with the Earth, but also in their long-term basic operating cost requirements, offering a financial platform of living that is fundamentally conservative.


Reap the harvest A basic idea of human culture is that we arrange and systematize the collection of the earth's fruits. That concept has primarily applied to food harvesting for millennia. It may also mean exploiting the energy generated by the Earth through new technology and paradigms: the sun, wind (actually solar energy), and tides.


Mottainai This Japanese term, derived from an old Shinto notion that material objects have souls, embodies meanings of both wastefulness and irreverence. More recently, Wangari Matthai, winner of the Kenyan Nobel Peace Prize, tried to popularize the word globally as a way to give our thoughtful use of resources a sense of the sacred.


For the general public, net-zero energy is also a very convincing concept that crystallizes the core needs of drastic energy reduction and generation of renewable energy into one clear, easy-to-understand idea. Although exciting the average citizen about the often arcane world of energy conservation can be very difficult, net-zero energy has a demonstrated capacity to encourage and engage people. A can-do spirit that blends the best of applied technology and design and large jumps forward is taken forward by NZE. It is also an open, inspiring response to individuals plagued by a sense of hopelessness around greater energy use and climate issues.


The deep drive towards designing with nature, the laws of physics, and biomimetics is a key component of innovation to achieve net-zero energy efficiency. Net-zero energy buildings take advantage of everyday temperature variations, and naturally stored thermal energy is available, capturing and preserving what is needed for the building to serve. Via sunshine, fire, wind, and photons, the gift of the sun, which all life springs from, is completely accepted. In net-zero energy buildings, many of the main technologies used to react to natural phenomena, such as evaporative cooling, stack effect, the ideal gas law, and shifts in the gas/liquid / solid phase. 


The Institute forbids the use of on-site combustion as part of its net-zero and net-positive energy criteria.


This ban has a variety of explanations for it. Building-related combustion usually contains so-called 'natural' gas, which contributes CO2 to the atmosphere and oceans. In certain cases, the intensive use of woody biomass extracts essential material from natural cycles and accelerates climate change by accelerating the slower release of CO2 by decay. Supplies of biogas will prove transient and quickly default to natural gas. Local air quality impacts may be important depending on the form of combustion. While it is understood that most net-zero-energy buildings are linked to a grid that relies on a broader energy grid that currently plays an important role in natural gas and coal-fired power plants, the final objective of the Institute is a completely renewable energy grid that involves the complete elimination of combustion, especially of fossil fuels.


The net-zero revolution 

The advantages of net-zero energy buildings may be self-evident, but the bottom line reality is that the voracity of our current use of energy threatens to undermine the tenuous protection platform on which our global society rests. Our consumption of energy definitely threatens the earth and biodiversity, but it also threatens us. These results add up to a major possible destabilization in the aggregate and, in the case of ocean acidification, there is a more critical risk of interrupting the deeper chain of life that comes from our oceans.


Each era has had major threats to civilization stability, including:


  • Epidemics

  • Foreign invasion

  • Religious wars

  • Resource wars

  • Genocide

  • Drought

  • Nuclear war and winter


At the time, some of these risks were well known, and the communities reacted as well as they could. The threats were not recognized, nor understood at other times.


Probably the most existential danger known to mankind has been faced by the previous generation, the danger of nuclear war and winter (of course, this threat persists, although the risk is reduced). This threat was incredibly complex, and the road to overcoming it was very vague. Potentially catastrophic was the risk of failure. Regardless of one's views about the result, there was obviously a reaction.


The United States alone spent 5.5 trillion US dollars on its nuclear arsenal between 1940 and 1996. Most of the remainder of the project is still going on today. By contrast, between 2004 and 2013, the United States only spent $311 billion on renewable energy. 


In addition, a disparity in awareness of the plethora of options and potential paths to far more benign and even positive energy use continues to exist. On the other hand, there are, in fact, energy solutions that are increasingly becoming economical and usable, many of them. A few key examples are the rapid technological development and price reduction of LED lighting, electric cars, and photovoltaic panels. One may be forgiven for feeling that they witness theater wondering whether it would win out the powers of good or evil.

Are You Looking for an Architecture Firm Specializing in Zero-Net Energy Building Envelope Designs?

Ecobuild Architects provides exceptional design and construction administration services for residential, commercial, and mixed-use projects throughout California with an eye towards sustainable/ high-performance building solutions. We are experts in suggesting Cost-Effective/ Sustainable Solutions for any size project. If you are searching for an architect that specializes in Zero-Net Energy Building Envelope Design, Water Reuse, Healthy Indoor Air Quality, & Fire Resilient/ New Home Construction Practices, look no further than Ecobuild Architects in Oakland, California. Contact us today for your free consultation!

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