Designing to be "net zero ready"
A net-zero energy building produces as much energy as it consumes. That's an admirable goal, but how do you get there? Most often, achieving net-zero involves some kind of renewable energy production to offset the building's energy consumption. But that can be expensive. We want to first bring down the energy consumption as much as possible so that renewable energy production systems make financial sense. That's what being “net-zero ready” means.
Our rule of thumb is a 75 percent energy-use reduction compared to a typical building of that type. That's a soft metric. We also use the hard metrics of the 2030 Challenge, wherein the ultimate goal is to have every new building consume zero fossil fuel by the year 2030. This is already becoming one of the primary trends in the market, and over the next five to 10 years this will become the norm. Energy codes are driving it.
Here's how to get net-zero ready.
Know thy building
The most important place to start is with an integrated design process and performance modeling. If you know what your building consumes, then you know what to do to bring down its energy use. You also need to understand the total cost of ownership, because it's not all about what saves energy today—you have to look holistically. Don't propose design solutions that could cost the owner a lot of money 10 years from now.
Don't count out energy production
It's key to evaluate the system from a life-cycle analysis perspective. Renewable energy costs are coming down. If you can reduce energy consumption substantially through integrated design, often it will actually be economical to invest in renewable energy systems than ongoing application of more energy efficient technology. Of course that depends on what climate your building is in and how much of the low-hanging fruit you've already picked.
Anticipate future technologies
Even if it doesn't make financial sense to install renewable energy systems now, it's important to invest in the infrastructure needed to retrofit your building in the future. That goes not just for the building itself, but also in parking lots, electric vehicle charging stations, and so on. Getting net-zero ready is more a matter of planning and taking stock of data than it is about investing in a particular technology. Ideally a net-zero ready building should cost exactly the same price as any other building on the market. It's just good planning.