Net-Zero Energy Isn’t the Real Goal: 8 Reasons Why

Published by BuildingGreen:  The U.S. is now adding renewable energy generation faster than any other source, which is putting us on a path to rapidly decarbonize the electric grid. In some parts of the U.S., the grid is already relatively clean. And Biden’s Clean Electricity Standard proposed through his Infrastructure Plan would set us on a path toward 80% clean energy on the grid by 2030. This increase in renewable energy sources both hastens the need for Net Zero Energy (NZE) buildings to become partners in that transition and exacerbates the ways that traditional NZE buildings will fall short on reducing carbon emissions. In this article, BuildingGreen lists eight ways that NZE projects miss the mark on climate goals and how we can course-correct to achieve our goals.

Included in the article is a mention of NBI’s GridOptimal Buildings Initiative. It encourages practitioners to use two metrics to measure how well the building’s energy-use patterns align with the grid’s expected ability to deliver low-carbon energy:

  • grid carbon alignment: the degree to which the building demand contributes to upstream grid carbon emissions over the course of a year
  • grid peak contribution: the degree to which a building’s demand contributes to load on the grid during system peak hours

All the data one needs about one’s regional grid have been forecasted by NREL’s Cambium tool—including demand forecasts by state for every hour of the year. Using a calculator provided by NBI, practitioners can calculate the above metrics after inputting a design’s net demand profile from its energy model.

“Static measures” like orientation, thermal mass, and passive solar heat gain “can make a real difference for making the building less peaky,” says Alexi Miller, lead engineer at NBI. NZE buildings just need to optimize for that in addition to energy efficiency. The calculator allows designers to “run a couple of design cases” and see “broad trends” indicating which design strategies are best for the grid, says Miller.

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