As simple as its name indicates, net zero energy use means the net energy consumption of the building is zero. The building can rely entirely on its own renewable energy system and does not need to take any energy from the grid. Achieving net zero energy status is a huge achievement which many businesses have begun to strive for.
In order to achieve net zero energy use, the building not only needs to install a renewable energy system or optimize an existing one, but also take actions to reduce or offset as much energy consumption as possible.
According to R&D, energy saving technologies that can play a role in achieving net zero energy use include insulation, air sealing, heating and cooling, lighting, windows, shading systems, water heating, appliances, ventilation, solar PV, building integrated photovoltaics, on-site batteries, energy efficient workstations, phantom loads, smart energy management systems, zero energy construction costs, ROI dollars, and ROI quality of life.
However, depending on the function and the size of the building, facility managers don’t have to take care of all the factors. They can select the factors that are impacting the building’s energy consumption the most and improve those.
This blog will help you break down all these factors and help you recognize which are more important to your building.
Insulation is very simple–good insulation can keep your building at a set temperature without using too much energy. Before installing insulation to your building, you need to decide whether your building needs one. If the answer is yes, then you should contact an architect. Insulation is normally installed when the building is being built.
Almost all types of buildings can benefit from a good insulation. For example, good insulation allows manufacturing companies, like breweries, to keep the processing environment either hot or cold without being affected too much by the outside temperature.
Good air sealing can prevent air leaks from the building. In addition to insulating your building’s ducts, you also need to seal them to reduce energy waste. When the air inside the building is exchanging heat with the air outside the building, it could lead to significant energy waste.
For buildings that have installed an HVAC system, air sealing can reduce up to 20% of energy waste. Manufacturing companies like breweries which use compressed air systems can also benefit from air sealing.
Heating and Cooling
The concept of heating and cooling is very straightforward. It utilizes a central heating system to control the building’s temperature. Some buildings use HVAC systems to control temperatures, humidity, ventilation, pressure, and some other aspects, like fire protection, smoke removal systems, clean air systems, etc. An HVAC system can help maintain thermal comfort conditions and indoor air quality. It is also very good at reducing energy usage of the building.
Heating and cooling are useful for almost all types of buildings throughout the year. If you can reduce the cost of heating and cooling of your building, you are closer to achieving net zero energy use!
Almost every building needs lighting inside. Sometimes, lighting is necessary throughout the day. Therefore, if you can reduce the amount of lights while keeping the building as bright as before, you have the potential to achieve net zero energy use. The simplest way is to install windows to let natural light in.
Replacing fluorescent lights with LEDs is another good way to start. Additionally, you can also use daylight harvesting to reduce the need to keep your lights on through systems which automatically adjust lighting levels inside the building according to how bright the indoor environment of the building is.
If natural light can come through windows, so can hot or cold air. By using a low-emissivity coating, your windows can capture or reject solar heat to reduce conductive heat transfer between your building and the outside. Good windows can also reduce air leaks and external noise, which can further reduce energy use and increase your employees’ work efficiency.
The term, shading system usually refers to the roof, or whatever is covering your building. According to R&D, “net zero energy buildings are usually designed with roof overhangs or fixed awnings that are carefully calculated to shade the summer sun, but allow in the winter sun for solar tempering.” This can reduce the costs for thermal controls and lighting. For example, using reflective roof materials can prevent the building from absorbing too much heat in the middle of the day.
Water can serve as a good heat storage medium. By storing heat in water when not using it, buildings can save some energy. However, not all buildings need water heating. Most of the time, large buildings and factories will benefit the most from water heating.
Reducing electricity costs for appliances can reduce energy consumption. Purchasing appliances with the Energy Star label is an easy way to get high-quality appliances while saving energy.
The term phantom loads refers to the fact that electronic appliances in your facility consume energy even after you turn them off. Sometimes, this could be accounting for a few hundred to a few thousand dollars on your utility bill. Therefore, if you can unplug your appliances before heading out, please do so. If unplugging is not practical, at least make sure you turn them off rather than keeping them up with sleep mode. Having Energy Star certified appliances also helps to reduce energy waste from phantom loads.
According to R&D, net zero energy use buildings are very airtight. In order to keep your employees working, fresh filtered air is essential. As a result, an energy efficient heat recovery ventilation system can improve the indoor air quality and the wellbeing of your employees.
To achieve net zero energy use, besides saving energy when possible, you should also consider installing solar PV to produce energy for the building to use. If you want to make sure the energy your solar PV produces can satisfy your need, you can consider using net metering, a mechanism to store extra energy during the day and utilize it during the night.
If your roof is not large enough to install solar PVs to meet your energy needs, you can integrate your PV panels into other building surfaces, like the walls, to maximize the energy that solar PVs produce. Most of the time, the buildings that need to build integrated PVs are large multi-story commercial buildings.
According to R&D, “on-site batteries can dramatically reduce demand charges by storing excess solar energy that is used for the high-rate periods of peak demand.” Demand is the most substantial charge on your energy bill, so reducing it can help dramatically in lowering energy bills. For net zero buildings, it also helps to offset the demand used by your building.
Construction Costs and Return on Investment
After reading all the above technologies and techniques, you may start worrying that these improvements are going to cost too much. Maybe right now, you are thinking that getting your building to net zero energy use will not be possible unless you have the money, time, and effort to deal with all of the details.
In reality, there is a wide variety of funding options out there offered by the government, your utility company, and banks to help you pay for your energy project. And thanks to the Solar Investment Tax Credit, the costs of such a project are further reduced. So, the fact is–building a net zero energy use commercial building won’t exceed typical construction budgets.
What’s more, with all the policies that are supporting renewable energy and the money you can save, a net zero energy use building is going to help you save a significant amount of money in the long run.
Are you feeling overwhelmed with all of this information? No worries, EnergyLink is here to help you break everything down and build your net zero energy use building step by step–from examining and planning to engineering, constructing, and financing. We will take you through all the steps and help you handle everything. What are you waiting for? Contact us today to sign up for a free consultation session and figure out how to successfully achieve net zero energy use!