Nearly 500 verified and emerging zero energy (ZE) buildings have been built across the United States and Canada—a 700 percent increase since the New Buildings Institute (NBI) began tracking projects in 2012. ZE buildings are ultra-low energy buildings that consume only as much energy as is produced through renewable generation resources. Private sector investment now represents nearly half of all facilities on NBI’s 2018 Getting to Zero Status Update and Zero Energy Buildings List.
ZE buildings transcend North American climates and borders with buildings in 44 U.S. states and four Canadian provinces. California is by far the front-runner in ZE building activity with Oregon boasting the second largest count. California’s leading energy policies, ambitious energy reduction goals, and effective utility programs, as well as Oregon’s Path to Net Zero efficiency program and incentives are driving their rapid uptake in ZE buildings. Both the Northeast and the Southwest regions saw the highest growth with more than a 90 percent increase in buildings since 2014.
The 482 buildings on the list total more than 45 million square feet of commercial space and include 67 verified projects (with at least one year of energy use and production data to prove ZE performance), and 415 emerging buildings (with a stated goal of zero energy, but not yet completed, fully occupied, or still working to attain ZE performance).
“Zero energy buildings use less than half the energy of typical buildings, saving owners and occupants money on energy bills,” said NBI CEO Ralph DiNola. “We see ZE buildings taking off across the country in all climate zones—larger buildings, high energy-use buildings, private sector and residential are going ZE—proving that deep energy savings is not only possible, but profitable in every market, in every region.”
“Since the construction of the Center for Sustainable Landscapes,” said Richard V. Piacentini, Executive Director, Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in Pittsburgh, “Phipps has added a modular net-zero energy building and is in the process of retrofitting an existing property for net-zero performance as part of a Living Campus, showcasing three very different types of buildings at the peak of efficiency.”
Other trends identified in the study of buildings from NBI’s tracking database include:
- Verified buildings use less than half the energy of typical buildings. The ZE verified buildings on the list on average use 60 percent less energy than comparable existing U.S. commercial buildings and 46 percent less energy than new buildings under one of the most stringent U.S. base code (CA Title 24). The median gross site energy use intensity (EUI) of ZE verified buildings is just 18 kBtu per square foot per year (before renewables). The ZE emerging buildings, which are a blend of measured and estimated energy use, have a median gross site EUI of 24 kBtu per square foot per year.
- Emerging buildings list shows projects increasing in size as design teams gain capability. The majority of verified ZE buildings (roughly 80 percent) are smaller than 25,000 square feet, reflecting the early trend of small demonstration buildings getting to zero. But the 2018 ZE emerging list of buildings show more evenly distributed building size, suggesting that large ZE buildings are entering the market with more diverse sized buildings pursuing ZE. In the 2018 emerging list, more than 40 percent of all buildings, and 88 percent of the total floor space, are 50,000 square feet or larger.
- Broadening set of building types are found, even in high energy intensity segments. ZE buildings can be found across a growing number of building types. Even high-energy intensity building types, such as hospitals and restaurants, are finding innovative ways to pursue ZE. As in years past, the combined education market, which includes K-12 schools, higher education, and general education, dominates the 2018 Getting to Zero List, making up 37 percent of the buildings.
- Private sector invests, districts emerge. ZE is finding favor with the private sector, with nearly 26 percent of the full list representing for-profit, private sector buildings and overall private ownership now at 46 percent. Home production builders say ZE residential projects have been “profitable, sustainable, and rewarding for their businesses and their customers.” The communities and commercial districts are increasing and carving a critical path to scale ZE buildings.