A zero-energy building, also known as a zero net energy (ZNE) building, net-zero energy building (NZEB), net zero building or zero-carbon building is a building with zero net energy consumption, meaning the total amount of energy used by the building on an annual basis is roughly equal to the amount of renewable energy created on the site, or in other definitions by renewable energy sources elsewhere. These buildings consequently contribute less overall greenhouse gas to the atmosphere than similar non-ZNE buildings. They do at times consume non-renewable energy and produce greenhouse gases, but at other times reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas production elsewhere by the same amount. A similar concept approved and implemented by the European Union and other agreeing countries is nearly Zero Energy Building (nZEB), with the goal of having all buildings in the region under nZEB standards by 2020. Zero-energy buildings are becoming more widespread for new construction but are still fairly rare as upgrades to existing houses.

Most zero net energy buildings get half or more of their energy from the grid, and return the same amount at other times. Buildings that produce a surplus of energy over the year may be called “energy-plus buildings” and buildings that consume slightly more energy than they produce are called “near-zero energy buildings” or “ultra-low energy houses”.

To get to a zero energy building the building’s energy use must be reduced to the point where all that energy can be generated on site using zero-carbon sources such as solar panels or wind turbines. Energy use is reduced by:

Installing thick insulation (up to 12″) in the walls, roof and basement ceiling,
Draft-proofing, to prevent leaks of cold air into the house in winter and warm air into the house in summer,
Installing efficient appliances such as a new refrigerator and new circulating fans for the heating/AC system.
Installing double-glazed or triple-glazed windows (which are up to eight times as insulating as a single pane of glass),
Heating the house with highly efficient heat pumps (heat pumps are about four times as efficient as burning fossil fuels like natural gas or coal for heating),
Using efficient light bulbs such s LEDs (LEDs which are about five times as efficient at producing light from electricity as incandescent – i.e., traditional, light bulbs).

The development of modern zero-energy buildings became possible largely through the progress made in new energy and construction technologies and techniques. These include highly insulating spray-foam insulation, high-efficiency solar panels, high-efficiency heat pumps and highly insulating low-E triple-glazed windows. These innovations have also been significantly improved by academic research, which collects precise energy performance data on traditional and experimental buildings and provides performance parameters for advanced computer models to predict the efficacy of engineering designs.

Zero-energy buildings can be part of a smart grid. Some advantages of these buildings are as follows:

Integration of renewable energy resources
Integration of plug-in electric vehicles – called vehicle-to-grid
Implementation of zero-energy concepts

Although the net zero concept is applicable to a wide range of resources such as energy, water and waste. Energy is usually the first resource to be targeted because:

Energy, particularly electricity and heating fuel like natural gas or heating oil, is expensive. Hence reducing energy use can save the building owner money. In contrast, water and waste are inexpensive.
Energy, particularly electricity and heating fuel, has a high carbon footprint. Hence reducing energy use is a major way to reduce the building’s carbon footprint
There are well-established means to significantly reduce the energy use and carbon footprint of buildings. These include: adding insulation, using heat pumps instead of furnaces, using low-E double or triple glazed windows and adding solar panels to the roof.
There are government sponsored subsidies and tax breaks for installing heat pumps, solar panels, triple-glazed windows and insulation that greatly reduce the cost of getting to a net-zero energy building for the building owner. For instance in the U.S., there are federal tax credits for solar panels, state incentives (which vary by state but are listed here) for solar panels, heat pumps and highly insulating triple-glazed windows. Some states, such as Massachusetts, also offer zero-interest or low-interest loans to allow building owners to purchase heat pumps, solar panels and triple-glazed windows that they otherwise could not afford. The cost of getting an existing house to net-zero energy has been reported as being 5-10% of the value of the house. A 15% return on investment has been reported. See here for details.

Despite sharing the name “zero net energy”, there are several definitions of what the term means in practice, with a particular difference in usage between North America and Europe.

Zero net site energy use
In this type of ZNE, the amount of energy provided by on-site renewable energy sources is equal to the amount of energy used by the building. In the United States, “zero net energy building” generally refers to this type of building.

Zero net source energy use
This ZNE generates the same amount of energy as is used, including the energy used to transport the energy to the building. This type accounts for energy losses during electricity generation and transmission. These ZNEs must generate more electricity than zero net site energy buildings.

Net zero energy emissions
Outside the United States and Canada, a ZEB is generally defined as one with zero net energy emissions, also known as a zero carbon building or zero emissions building. Under this definition the carbon emissions generated from on-site or off-site fossil fuel use are balanced by the amount of on-site renewable energy production. Other definitions include not only the carbon emissions generated by the building in use, but also those generated in the construction of the building and the embodied energy of the structure. Others debate whether the carbon emissions of commuting to and from the building should also be included in the calculation.Recent work in New Zealand has initiated an approach to include building user transport energy within zero energy building frameworks.

Net zero cost
In this type of building, the cost of purchasing energy is balanced by income from sales of electricity to the grid of electricity generated on-site. Such a status depends on how a utility credits net electricity generation and the utility rate structure the building uses.
Net off-site zero energy use
A building may be considered a ZEB if 100% of the energy it purchases comes from renewable energy sources, even if the energy is generated off the site.

Off-the-grid buildings are stand-alone ZEBs that are not connected to an off-site energy utility facility. They require distributed renewable energy generation and energy storage capability (for when the sun is not shining, wind is not blowing, etc.). An energy autarkic house is a building concept where the balance of the own energy consumption and production can be made on an hourly or even smaller basis. Energy autarkic houses can be taken off-the-grid.

Power generation
In the case of individual houses, several microgeneration technologies can be used to provide heat and electricity to the building.

Electricity : by means of solar cells ( photovoltaic ), wind turbines ( wind energy ) and fuel cells ( hydrogen ).
Heat : through biofuels , biomass , solar thermal collectors (hot water, hot air, low pressure steam), accumulation in the thermal mass of the building, water walls and Trombe-Michel walls , among other thermal strategies of the bioclimatic arsenal , synthesized in the passive house . With these techniques can provide heating , cooling and even cooling to the environments of the house or building. Among the most recent developments is the geothermal heating or theaccumulation of phreatic heat through which wells are made at depths between 40 and 70 m of approximately 30 cm in diameter by which water is recirculated from fan coil or radiant floor air conditioning systems . Thus the summer heat accumulates to be used in winter and vice versa. The most notorious example is the building of the German Parliament in Berlin by the architect Norman Foster .
Fluctuations in demand : To cope with fluctuations in the demand for heat or electric power, zero energy buildings are usually connected to the network and have two-way meters. In this way they export electricity during the day and import it during the night. The great advantage is to avoid the high costs of stationary batteries and their maintenance to accumulate electricity. Specific legislation and a subsidy policy are required to implement it. It is very difficult in countries where services are private and the power of the weak state. Another possibility is that the buildings are completely autonomous (not connected to the network), but the initial costs are much higher and can hardly be amortized without subsidies.
Neighborhoods or zero-energy housing developments are feasible, such as BedZED built in England, although there are several examples in Germany . In these cases, the concept of distributed generation is used together with district heating . There are recent examples of construction of zero-energy whole cities such as the case of Dongtan near Shanghai in China . In Japan , urban sectors with district heating and cooling have been equipped distributing hot water and cold water as a public service.

Net zero-energy building
Based on scientific analysis within the joint research program “Towards Net Zero Energy Solar Buildings” a methodological framework was set up which allows different definitions, in accordance with country’s political targets, specific (climate) conditions and respectively formulated requirements for indoor conditions: The overall conceptual understanding of a Net ZEB is an energy efficient, grid connected building enabled to generate energy from renewable sources to compensate its own energy demand.

The wording “Net” emphasizes the energy exchange between the building and the energy infrastructure. By the building-grid interaction, the Net ZEBs becomes an active part of the renewable energy infrastructure. This connection to energy grids prevents seasonal energy storage and oversized on-site systems for energy generation from renewable sources like in energy autonomous buildings. The similarity of both concepts is a pathway of two actions) reduce energy demand by means of energy efficiency measures and passive energy use) generate energy from renewable sources. However, the Net ZEBs grid interaction and plans to widely increase their numbers evoke considerations on increased flexibility in the shift of energy loads and reduced peak demands.

Within this balance procedure several aspects and explicit choices have to be determined:

The building system boundary is split into a physical boundary which determines which renewable resources are considered (e.g. in buildings footprint, on-site or even off-site, see) respectively how many buildings are included in the balance (single building, cluster of buildings) and a balance boundary which determines the included energy uses (e.g. heating, cooling, ventilation, hot water, lighting, appliances, IT, central services, electric vehicles, and embodied energy, etc.). It should be noticed that renewable energy supply options can be prioritized (e.g. by transportation or conversion effort, availability over the lifetime of the building or replication potential for future, etc.) and therefore create a hierarchy. It may be argued that resources within the building footprint or on-site should be given priority over off-site supply options.

The weighting system converts the physical units of different energy carriers into a uniform metric (site/final energy, source/primary energy renewable parts included or not, energy cost, equivalent carbon emissions and even energy or environmental credits) and allows their comparison and compensation among each other in one single balance (e.g. exported PV electricity can compensate imported biomass). Politically influenced and therefore possibly asymmetrically or time dependent conversion/weighting factors can affect the relative value of energy carriers and can influence the required energy generation capacity.

The balancing period is often assumed to be one year (suitable to cover all operation energy uses). A shorter period (monthly or seasonal) could also be considered as well as a balance over the entire life cycle (including embodied energy, which could also be annualized and counted in addition to operational energy uses).

The energy balance can be done in two balance types: 1) Balance of delivered/imported and exported energy (monitoring phase as self-consumption of energy generated on-site can be included); 2) Balance between (weighted) energy demand and (weighted) energy generation (for design phase as normally end users temporal consumption patterns -e.g. for lighting, appliances, etc.- are lacking). Alternatively a balance based on monthly net values in which only residuals per month are summed up to an annual balance is imaginable. This can be seen either as a load/generation balance or as a special case of import/export balance where a “virtual monthly self-consumption” is assumed.

Beside the energy balance, Net ZEBs can be characterized by their ability to match the building’s load by its energy generation (load matching) or to work beneficially with respect to the needs of the local grid infrastructure (grind interaction). Both can be expressed by suitable indicators which are intended as assessment tools only.

The information is based on the publications, and in which deeper information could be found.

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Design and construction
The most cost-effective steps toward a reduction in a building’s energy consumption usually occur during the design process. To achieve efficient energy use, zero energy design departs significantly from conventional construction practice. Successful zero energy building designers typically combine time tested passive solar, or artificial/fake conditioning, principles that work with the on-site assets. Sunlight and solar heat, prevailing breezes, and the cool of the earth below a building, can provide daylighting and stable indoor temperatures with minimum mechanical means. ZEBs are normally optimized to use passive solar heat gain and shading, combined with thermal mass to stabilize diurnal temperature variations throughout the day, and in most climates are superinsulated. All the technologies needed to create zero energy buildings are available off-the-shelf today.

Sophisticated 3-D building energy simulation tools are available to model how a building will perform with a range of design variables such as building orientation (relative to the daily and seasonal position of the sun), window and door type and placement, overhang depth, insulation type and values of the building elements, air tightness (weatherization), the efficiency of heating, cooling, lighting and other equipment, as well as local climate. These simulations help the designers predict how the building will perform before it is built, and enable them to model the economic and financial implications on building cost benefit analysis, or even more appropriate – life cycle assessment.

Zero-energy buildings are built with significant energy-saving features. The heating and cooling loads are lowered by using high-efficiency equipment (such as heat pumps rather than furnaces. Heat pumps are about four times as efficient as furnaces) added insulation (especially in the attic and in the basement of houses), high-efficiency windows (such as low-E triple-glazed windows), draft-proofing, high efficiency appliances (particularly modern high-efficiency refrigerators), high-efficiency LED lighting, passive solar gain in winter and passive shading in the summer, natural ventilation, and other techniques. These features vary depending on climate zones in which the construction occurs. Water heating loads can be lowered by using water conservation fixtures, heat recovery units on waste water, and by using solar water heating, and high-efficiency water heating equipment. In addition, daylighting with skylights or solartubes can provide 100% of daytime illumination within the home. Nighttime illumination is typically done with fluorescent and LED lighting that use 1/3 or less power than incandescent lights, without adding unwanted heat. And miscellaneous electric loads can be lessened by choosing efficient appliances and minimizing phantom loads or standby power. Other techniques to reach net zero (dependent on climate) are Earth sheltered building principles, superinsulation walls using straw-bale construction, Vitruvianbuilt pre-fabricated building panels and roof elements plus exterior landscaping for seasonal shading.

Once the energy use of the building has been minimized it can be possible to generate all that energy on site using roof-mounted solar panels. See examples of zero net energy houses here.

Zero-energy buildings are often designed to make dual use of energy including that from white goods. For example using refrigerator exhaust to heat domestic water, ventilation air and shower drain heat exchangers, office machines and computer servers, and body heat to heat the building. These buildings make use of heat energy that conventional buildings may exhaust outside. They may use heat recovery ventilation, hot water heat recycling, combined heat and power, and absorption chiller units.

Energy harvest
ZEBs harvest available energy to meet their electricity and heating or cooling needs. By far the most common way to harvest energy is to use roof-mounted solar photovoltaic panels that turn the sun’s light into electricity. Energy can also be harvested with solar thermal collectors (which use the sun’s heat to heat water for the building). Heat pumps either ground-source (otherwise known as geothermal) or air-sourced can also harvest heat and cool from the air or ground near the building. Technically heat pumps move heat rather than harvest it, but the overall effect in terms of reduced energy use and reduced carbon footprint is similar. In the case of individual houses, various microgeneration technologies may be used to provide heat and electricity to the building, using solar cells or wind turbines for electricity, and biofuels or solar thermal collectors linked to a seasonal thermal energy storage (STES) for space heating. An STES can also be used for summer cooling by storing the cold of winter underground. To cope with fluctuations in demand, zero energy buildings are frequently connected to the electricity grid, export electricity to the grid when there is a surplus, and drawing electricity when not enough electricity is being produced. Other buildings may be fully autonomous.

Energy harvesting is most often more effective (in cost and resource utilization) when done on a local but combined scale, for example, a group of houses, cohousing, local district, village, etc. rather than an individual basis. An energy benefit of such localized energy harvesting is the virtual elimination of electrical transmission and electricity distribution losses. On-site energy harvesting such as with roof top mounted solar panels eliminates these transmission losses entirely. These losses amount to about 7.2%–7.4% of the energy transferred. Energy harvesting in commercial and industrial applications should benefit from the topography of each location. However, a site that is free of shade can generate large amounts of solar powered electricity from the building’s roof and almost any site can use geothermal or air-sourced heat pumps. The production of goods under net zero fossil energy consumption requires locations of geothermal, microhydro, solar, and wind resources to sustain the concept.

Zero-energy neighborhoods, such as the BedZED development in the United Kingdom, and those that are spreading rapidly in California and China, may use distributed generation schemes. This may in some cases include district heating, community chilled water, shared wind turbines, etc. There are current plans to use ZEB technologies to build entire off-the-grid or net zero energy use cities.

The “energy harvest” versus “energy conservation” debate
One of the key areas of debate in zero energy building design is over the balance between energy conservation and the distributed point-of-use harvesting of renewable energy (solar energy, wind energy and thermal energy). Most zero energy homes use a combination of these strategies.

As a result of significant government subsidies for photovoltaic solar electric systems, wind turbines, etc., there are those who suggest that a ZEB is a conventional house with distributed renewable energy harvesting technologies. Entire additions of such homes have appeared in locations where photovoltaic (PV) subsidies are significant, but many so called “Zero Energy Homes” still have utility bills. This type of energy harvesting without added energy conservation may not be cost effective with the current price of electricity generated with photovoltaic equipment (depending on the local price of power company electricity),. The cost, energy and carbon-footprint savings from conservation (e.g., added insulation, triple-glazed windows and heat pumps) compared to those from on-site energy generation (e.g., solar panels) have been published for an upgrade to an existing house here.

Since the 1980s, passive solar building design and passive house have demonstrated heating energy consumption reductions of 70% to 90% in many locations, without active energy harvesting. For new builds, and with expert design, this can be accomplished with little additional construction cost for materials over a conventional building. Very few industry experts have the skills or experience to fully capture benefits of the passive design. Such passive solar designs are much more cost-effective than adding expensive photovoltaic panels on the roof of a conventional inefficient building. A few kilowatt-hours of photovoltaic panels (costing 2 to 3 dollars per annual kWh production, U.S. dollar equivalent) may only reduce external energy requirements by 15% to 30%. A 100,000 BTU (110 MJ) high seasonal energy efficiency ratio 14 conventional air conditioner requires over 7 kW of photovoltaic electricity while it is operating, and that does not include enough for off-the-grid night-time operation. Passive cooling, and superior system engineering techniques, can reduce the air conditioning requirement by 70% to 90%. Photovoltaic-generated electricity becomes more cost-effective when the overall demand for electricity is lower.

Occupant behavior
The energy used in a building can vary greatly depending on the behavior of its occupants. The acceptance of what is considered comfortable varies widely. Studies of identical homes in the United States have shown dramatic differences in energy use, with some identical homes using more than twice the energy of others. Occupant behavior can vary from differences in setting and programming thermostats, varying levels of illumination and hot water, and the amount of miscellaneous electric devices or plug loads used.

Utility concerns
Utility companies are typically legally responsible for maintaining the electrical infrastructure that brings power to our cities, neighborhoods, and individual buildings. Utility companies typically own this infrastructure up to the property line of an individual parcel, and in some cases own electrical infrastructure on private land as well. Utilities have expressed concern that the use of Net Metering for ZNE projects threatens the Utilities base revenue, which in turn impacts their ability to maintain and service the portion of the electrical grid that they are responsible for. Utilities have expressed concern that states that maintain Net Metering laws may saddle non-ZNE homes with higher utility costs, as those homeowners would be responsible for paying for grid maintenance while ZNE home owners would theoretically pay nothing if they do achieve ZNE status. This creates potential equity issues, as currently, the burden would appear to fall on lower-income households. A possible solution to this issue is to create a minimum base charge for all homes connected to the utility grid, which would force ZNE home owners to pay for grid services independently of their electrical use.

Additional concerns exist that local distribution as well as larger transmission grids have not been designed to convey electricity in two directions, which may be necessary as higher levels of distributed energy generation come on line. Overcoming this barrier could require extensive upgrades to the electrical grid, however this is not believed to be a major problem until renewable generation reaches much higher levels of penetration than currently realized.

Development efforts
Wide acceptance of zero-energy building technology may require more government incentives or building code regulations, the development of recognized standards, or significant increases in the cost of conventional energy.

The Google photovoltaic campus and the Microsoft 480-kilowatt photovoltaic campus relied on U.S. Federal, and especially California, subsidies and financial incentives. California is now providing US$3.2 billion in subsidies for residential-and-commercial near-zero-energy buildings. The details of other American states’ renewable energy subsidies (up to US$5.00 per watt) can be found in the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency. The Florida Solar Energy Center has a slide presentation on recent progress in this area.

The World Business Council for Sustainable Development has launched a major initiative to support the development of ZEB. Led by the CEO of United Technologies and the Chairman of Lafarge, the organization has both the support of large global companies and the expertise to mobilize the corporate world and governmental support to make ZEB a reality. Their first report, a survey of key players in real estate and construction, indicates that the costs of building green are overestimated by 300 percent. Survey respondents estimated that greenhouse gas emissions by buildings are 19 percent of the worldwide total, in contrast to the actual value of roughly 40 percent.

Influential zero-energy and low-energy buildings
Those who commissioned construction of passive houses and zero-energy homes (over the last three decades) were essential to iterative, incremental, cutting-edge, technology innovations. Much has been learned from many significant successes, and a few expensive failures.

The zero-energy building concept has been a progressive evolution from other low-energy building designs. Among these, the Canadian R-2000 and the German passive house standards have been internationally influential. Collaborative government demonstration projects, such as the superinsulated Saskatchewan House, and the International Energy Agency’s Task 13, have also played their part.

Advantages and disadvantages

isolation for building owners from future energy price increases
increased comfort due to more-uniform interior temperatures (this can be demonstrated with comparative isotherm maps)
reduced requirement for energy austerity
reduced total cost of ownership due to improved energy efficiency
reduced total net monthly cost of living
reduced risk of loss from grid blackouts
improved reliability – photovoltaic systems have 25-year warranties and seldom fail during weather problems – the 1982 photovoltaic systems on the Walt Disney World EPCOT Energy Pavilion are still working fine today, after going through three recent hurricanes
extra cost is minimized for new construction compared to an afterthought retrofit
higher resale value as potential owners demand more ZEBs than available supply
the value of a ZEB building relative to similar conventional building should increase every time energy costs increase
future legislative restrictions, and carbon emission taxes/penalties may force expensive retrofits to inefficient buildings
contribute to the greater benefits of the society, e.g. providing sustainable renewable energy to the grid, reducing the need of grid expansion

initial costs can be higher – effort required to understand, apply, and qualify for ZEB subsidies, if they exist.
very few designers or builders have the necessary skills or experience to build ZEBs
possible declines in future utility company renewable energy costs may lessen the value of capital invested in energy efficiency
new photovoltaic solar cells equipment technology price has been falling at roughly 17% per year – It will lessen the value of capital invested in a solar electric generating system – Current subsidies will be phased out as photovoltaic mass production lowers future price
challenge to recover higher initial costs on resale of building, but new energy rating systems are being introduced gradually.
while the individual house may use an average of net zero energy over a year, it may demand energy at the time when peak demand for the grid occurs. In such a case, the capacity of the grid must still provide electricity to all loads. Therefore, a ZEB may not reduce the required power plant capacity.
without an optimised thermal envelope the embodied energy, heating and cooling energy and resource usage is higher than needed. ZEB by definition do not mandate a minimum heating and cooling performance level thus allowing oversized renewable energy systems to fill the energy gap.
solar energy capture using the house envelope only works in locations unobstructed from the sun. The solar energy capture cannot be optimized in north (for northern hemisphere, or south for southern Hemisphere) facing shade, or wooded surroundings.

Zero energy building versus green building
The goal of green building and sustainable architecture is to use resources more efficiently and reduce a building’s negative impact on the environment. Zero energy buildings achieve one key green-building goal of completely or very significantly reducing energy use and greenhouse gas emissions for the life of the building. Zero energy buildings may or may not be considered “green” in all areas, such as reducing waste, using recycled building materials, etc. However, zero energy, or net-zero buildings do tend to have a much lower ecological impact over the life of the building compared with other “green” buildings that require imported energy and/or fossil fuel to be habitable and meet the needs of occupants.

Because of the design challenges and sensitivity to a site that are required to efficiently meet the energy needs of a building and occupants with renewable energy (solar, wind, geothermal, etc.), designers must apply holistic design principles, and take advantage of the free naturally occurring assets available, such as passive solar orientation, natural ventilation, daylighting, thermal mass, and night time cooling.

Source from Wikipedia