Zero Energy Buildings: Closer Than You Might Think

It’s probably a safe bet to assume you’ve never been in or even passed by a zero energy building. The U.S. Department of Energy lists only eight zero energy buildings in the U.S. on its high performance building database (though there are a few others scattered across the U.S.). A number of developers, such as Meritage Homes, have started building zero energy developments around the U.S. In Europe, the Passivhaus standard has been used to build over 40,000 residential and commercial buildings, and the city of Frankfurt, Germany requires it in construction of new public buildings. Still, these represent only a tiny fraction of the total building stock and, for most of the construction world, zero energy design represents an all but unattainable challenge given the up-front costs of deep energy efficiency and renewable energy systems.

Zero energy building, however, is expected to increase dramatically in the construction industry in the next few decades as a set of regulations around the world come into effect. As soon as 2016, the United Kingdom will require zero carbon construction for all residential buildings. Newly constructed dwellings will need to achieve deep levels of energy efficiency (45-60 percent lower than a comparable building built in 2006). That’s just four years away.

Major plans for zero energy buildings are underway throughout the European Union, too, as the EU Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) will require all new commercial and residential buildings to achieve “nearly zero energy” design for public buildings starting in 2019 and all new building construction in 2021. Individual EU Member States are busy defining “nearly zero energy” today and, by the end of the decade, will be implementing nearly zero energy building codes for all new buildings. Assuming that construction activity in the EU rebounds to or near pre-recession levels by then, this will become a more than $1 trillion market, as described in Pike Research’s Zero Energy Buildings report.

Similar legislation targeting specific sectors has been proposed around the world, including Japan and the states of California and Massachusetts, as shown in the above chart. While voluntary zero energy building will continue to grow outside these regions, demand for it will be guaranteed when zero energy is the law of the land, and regions with zero energy codes will represent the largest markets.

Given the new and innovative design approaches required to deliver a zero energy building, companies on many sides of the building industry, from developers and contractors to building equipment and materials vendors, are already developing new strategies to address these markets when these regulations come into effect. This shift is particularly notable in the construction industry, which is hardly considered fast-moving and responsive to change. As these laws come into effect, though, there will be little choice for the industry but to evolve toward zero energy building design.

Article by Eric Bloom, appearing courtesy the Matter Network.

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