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DOE Seeks Input on Definition of Zero Energy Buildings

Designing and managing the use of a low energy using building or one that intends to use less than half (50%) of the typical building of its size and occupancy is a difficult process. However, design teams and building owners are beginning to create buildings which use as little energy as possible, while producing only the amount they need – on or near the building site. These types of buildings are called Zero Energy Buildings (ZEBs) or Net Zero Energy (NZE) Buildings.

Although these ultra-low energy buildings have been built and are in use, there are not commonplace in our current, Midwest building stock. A retail building was recently completed by Walgreens in Evanston, IL. On the residential side, Habitat for Humanity in Northwestern Wisconsin completed a set of homes this autumn which follow a similar definition. Earlier in 2009, the Washington University in St. Louis completed the Tyson Learning Center in rural Missouri. The U.S. Department of Energy (U.S. DOE) is interested in developing a commonly-accepted definitions and nomenclature of Zero Energy Buildings (ZEBs) or Net Zero Energy (NZE) Buildings (the specific term might be something to comment on itself!) in a newly released, Federal Register document.

Specifically, DOE would like public input on define “zero-energy buildings,” and how to designate buildings that meet various standards toward net-zero. A common definition could assist to set guidelines that could help governments, private companies, and others in construction industry have a goal to reach for and achieve, while simultaneously using the same standard to recognize those buildings who do meet the agreed upon requirements. Some may see this as a means to continually move the market towards low energy buildings and further reductions of greenhouse gas/CO2 emissions – goals many Federal, State, and local governments have already established. To others, it could suggest influencing future generations of the building energy code or green building certification programs. The Living Future Institute is one such organization who already has set up the Living Building Challenge program using a set of criteria to certify buildings who achieve a number of ultra, low-impact features, including those termed as a “Net Zero Energy Building.”

For more information on the U.S. DOE Request for Information (RFI) recently released in the Federal Register, follow this link. There is plenty of opportunity to voice your opinion on the matter through the public comment period. U.S. DOE has not suggested this information will immediately influence their goals, but will help clarify the working definition we all use. Comments are not due until 2/20/15, while a report on the findings and comments is slated for late 2015.

For more information on benchmarking, building data collection, and the next generation of places we inhabit, contact Steve Kismohr, MEEA’s Senior Technical Manager, at skismohr@mwalliance.org or 312.784.7257.