New Reports Chart Path to Net-Zero-Energy Commercial Buildings

Two new reports from the Zero Energy Commercial Buildings Consortium on achieving net-zero-energy use in commercial buildings say "high levels of energy efficiency are the first, largest, and most important step on the way to net-zero."

Leading national organizations such as the Building Owners and Managers Association, American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers, Inc., American Institute of Architects, the U.S. Green Building Council, the Illuminating Engineering Society, the Association of State Energy Research and Technology Transfer Institutions, the National Electrical Manufacturers Association and many other commercial building stakeholders worked together over the last year to develop the reports, which highlight the need for new approaches in technology research and deployment, holistic building design and financing as critical elements to further advance energy efficiency in the commercial buildings sector.  

The U.S. Department of Energy commissioned the reports from the CBC, an industry consortium led by the National Association of State Energy Officials, the Alliance to Save Energy and other leading national organizations to identify barriers and make recommendations to industry stakeholders for achieving net-zero-energy commercial buildings over the next two to three decades.

There are many definitions of net-zero-energy buildings, but typically they are highly energy-efficient buildings that use no more energy than they can produce on site on an annual basis.  

The Next Generation Technologies: Barriers and Industry Recommendations for Commercial Buildings and the Analysis of Cost & Non-Cost Barriers and Policy Solutions for Commercial Buildings focus on innovative technologies and practices and market-oriented strategies, respectively.  Free copies of the full reports can be downloaded from the CBC website.

The CBC reports are quite timely, following closely on President Obama's February 3 announcement about the new Better Buildings Initiative, which is aimed at improving energy efficiency in commercial buildings by 20 percent over the next 10 years by stimulating private investment in building energy efficiency, generating new jobs in construction and facilities operation and saving commercial building owners and tenants nearly $40 billion yearly on utility bills.  

"While many details remain to be settled, the Better Buildings Initiative is a very exciting development for the commercial buildings sector, and the CBC fully supports its goals and looks forward to working with CBC members and industry stakeholders to contribute to these efforts," according to NASEO Executive Director David Terry.  "The President's initiative targets many of the same barriers examined by CBC members over the last year, which are summarized in the two major reports just released by the CBC."  

David Hewitt, lead author of one of the CBC reports and executive director of the New Buildings Institute, noted that "National initiatives such as the BBI can build on and complement important new initiatives by states and utilities, such as California's Zero Net Energy Action Plan.  The job ahead is big enough that everyone's efforts are needed, and they need to be coordinated – that's exactly why we created the CBC."

Additional recommendations in the two reports include:

  • Create and sustain market demand for energy efficiency retrofits and new construction through innovative approaches to financing and valuation of energy efficiency improvements.
  • Emphasize voluntary programs, such as President Obama's Better Buildings Challenge, to catalyze change in corporate culture through strong leadership and commitment to energy efficiency.
  • Enhance and extend building energy codes and standards to cover all energy end uses, emphasize building and systems commissioning and long-term performance.
  • Promote wide-scale use of integrated design and whole-building approaches to achieve more aggressive and dramatic energy reductions.  
  • Refine modeling and decision-making tools to fully support new financing, codes, design and benchmarking approaches.  
  • Develop and build consensus around national workforce standards and increase training efforts for the professional and technical workforce on energy-efficient building design, auditing, retrofitting, commissioning and operations.

"The long-term road to net-zero begins with what we can do today," notes Alliance Senior Vice President Jeff Harris.  This includes broad application of today's best energy efficiency technology and sustained energy management practices in the existing stock of commercial buildings. We also need to design new commercial buildings to be 'net-zero-ready,' so that it's easier to continually improve their energy performance as new and even better technologies are introduced over the next 30 to 50 years – the expected lifetime of today's new buildings."