Zero Net Energy Policies

Code & Policy / Zero Net Energy

Policies and programs can dramatically change the landscape for Zero Net Energy (ZNE) buildings. There is burgeoning market interest in ZNE, and policies and programs can foster and grow that interest through leadership, direct support, and the reduction of risks and uncertainties. Cities and states are leading the way, accompanied by community or district-scale efforts.

ZNE is still a relatively new movement; only a small percentage of current building construction has a goal of ZNE.  However efforts are increasing, with a doubling in the number of commercial ZNE buildings over the last two years.  ZNE homes and buildings have been designed and constructed by a growing number of design teams and builders and are spread throughout a number of climate zones and political jurisdiction, including 36 states in the U.S. and a number of Canadian provinces.

ZNE buildings have now passed the “proof of concept” stage, with both more ZNE buildings being constructed as well as larger and more complex buildings.  The question now is how to garner the significant carbon benefits of rapidly increasing the numbers of ZNE homes and buildings through policies and programs that target ZNE.

States and local governments are leading the way. Several schools and public buildings have been identified in early policies for ZNE. Other policies and/or programs are being developed to bring ZNE to scale. Utilities and program administrators have also operated successful ZNE pilots in at least two states, with pilots just getting underway in several other jurisdictions. Even building codes are at the early stages of considering changes that could better support ZNE in the future, with leading efforts including a focus on stretch codes and establishing energy targets for codes.

The policy and programs approaches described in the links below depict many of the best options for advancing ZNE buildings and districts. Almost all of these ZNE policies follow from broader climate or energy policies enacted by state legislatures, governors, mayors and city councils.

  1. Develop a Building Energy Codes Roadmap
  2. Establish annual benchmarking and disclosure policies and aggregate energy use data to set local energy reduction targets
  3. Establish rate policies that fairly credit renewable energy production while acknowledging the changing role of the electric grid
  4. Provide supportive programs by utilities or program administrators
  5. Create incentives for ZNE at the state or local government level
  6. Set ZNE goals for government and other public buildings 
  7. Identify and support target sector efforts
  8. Encourage district or community-scale planning and infrastructurefor renewable and alternative energy systems   
  9. Adopt improved appliance standards to reduce energy use that currently falls outside the scope of building energy codes
  10. Address existing building stock by leveraging renewal cycles and adopting performance tracking requirements

In December 2013 Cambridge, Massachusetts, created the “Getting to Net Zero Task Force” charged with advancing the goal of putting Cambridge on the trajectory toward becoming a “net zero community” with a focus on carbon emissions from building operations. In May 2014 Integral Group prepared a report entitled “Policy Best Practices: Cambridge Getting to Net Zero Task Force. Read report