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Zero Net Energy? What’s That?

Zero net energy is already in action in Los Altos at the Packard Foundation Building.


GreenTown attended a Zero Net Energy Workshop recently and learned that ZNE is coming our way by 2020 for new residential construction and by 2030 for new commercial construction and 50% of existing commercial construction. What does that mean?

Simply put, a ZNE building produces as much energy as it uses over the course of a year. The idea is not to load up on solar panels, but first build the most energy efficient building possible. Then you add enough renewable energy to match the demand.

Has it ever been done? Yes, and California is leading the nation in this new green building trend with 21 verified ZNE buildings and 139 more underway. They are being seen around the country in 45 states covering all climate zones and all building sizes and types. We even have one in Los Altos – the Packard Foundation on Second Street.

Los Altos’ Packard Foundation building is Zero Net Energy and looks beautiful.


Is it expensive? It adds 0-15% to the cost for design and construction, but that cost is offset by lower energy bills.

Is there more than cost savings? ZNE buildings are just better buildings – healthier, more comfortable and less costly to operate. Locally sourced energy makes us more resilient in the event of storms or natural disasters. Businesses see a marketing edge that attracts customers as well as attracting and retaining employees. Property owners see an advantage with longer tenant retention and faster leasing. Importantly though, the ZNE choice demonstrates a commitment to a clean energy future.

Sounds good, how do I do it? A key is to start with a solid design that includes consideration of passive heating and ventilation, window locations to take advantage of natural light, and the use of the latest control technology. The architects and contractors must understand ZNE. The banks involved must understand the added value that comes with a ZNE building.

The verdict on ZNE buildings is that they save energy and they save money. There are operational considerations. Overriding the controls will cut into the energy savings, but a well designed building minimizes that temptation, leaving us with a final thought, ZNE buildings work.

For more information, including case studies, visit newbuilding.org here.

By Gary Hedden

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