Zero Energy Buildings on the Rise Across the U.S. New Report Finds Projects Expanding in Number, Geography and Building Type

March 6, 2012–A new report released today by the New Buildings Institute (NBI) and the Zero Energy Commercial Building Consortium (CBC) reveals that zero energy commercial buildings—highly efficient buildings that produce as much energy as they use through on-site renewable resources—are cropping up across the United States from sunny California to snowy New York state.
The report, “Getting To Zero 2012 Status Update: A First Look at the Costs and Features of Zero Energy Commercial Buildings” examines the number, location, costs and design strategies of various types of zero energy commercial buildings (ZEBs) as well as zero energy-capable (ZEC) buildings, which are energy efficient enough to be zero energy, but have not taken the final step of on-site renewable generation. It is the most comprehensive look at the state of zero energy commercial buildings to date.
NBI is a nonprofit organization working collaboratively with commercial building professionals and the energy industry to promote better building energy performance. CBC members include over 450 commercial building stakeholders committed to charting a path for achieving net-zero energy commercial buildings. The National Association of State Energy Officials (NASEO) serves as the secretariat for the CBC and also co-sponsored the study.
The report identifies 99 buildings that are either zero energy, zero energy-capable or ZEBs currently under construction or recently completed with limited performance data. It finds that the number and diversity of commercial ZEBs and ZECs are growing and can be found in most climate zones. The technologies as well as design and construction practices used to create these buildings are readily available today.
While in the past, ZEBs were primarily small, “demonstration” buildings, projects are expanding in size and building type. Today’s ZEBs are still mostly small buildings, but include K-12 schools, offices, university buildings, recreation centers, assembly halls and more. Among the innovative buildings capturing the attention of architects and builders are the IDeAs Z2 Design Facility in San Jose, CA; Hudson Valley Clean Energy Headquarters in Rhinebeck, New York; and Richardsville Elementary School in Bowling Green, Kentucky.
“Lofty goals have been set for achieving zero energy buildings by 2030. This study is a first look at whether we could possibly reach those goals. The really good news is extremely energy efficient buildings are being demonstrated in a multitude of climates and across building types. This is certainly a good sign for the future of zero energy buildings,” said NBI Executive Director Dave Hewitt.
Diana Lin, CBC program manager noted, “This report provides a glimpse into what’s possible with current technologies. Net-zero energy and zero energy capable buildings are achievable today in certain settings and their reach is increasing. As a long-term policy goal, net-zero energy can be a catalyst for transformative change for the entire building stock.”
Key report findings include:

  • ZEBs have been successfully built in most climate zones of the United States.
  • The majority of ZEBs to date are small or very small buildings, however there are increasing examples of larger and more complex buildings. Many of the earliest examples are academic buildings or environmental centers, in effect, demonstration buildings sometimes with low occupancy levels. More recent buildings include office buildings, K-8 schools and a credit union; buildings that represent large numbers of “average” or typical buildings.
  • ZEBs are constructed using readily available technology. An integrated design approach with careful attention to building site and layout, envelope, mechanical systems, and electrical systems is critical to achieve the high levels of energy efficiency. Unique or experimental systems are infrequently used to reach net zero goals, but the emergence of new technologies will be a factor in the expansion to more building types.
  • Modeling studies indicate costs of 3% to 18% for energy efficiency features, depending on building type, size, climate and other variables. Reported incremental costs are only available from a few ZEB projects making conclusions or trends difficult to derive from the limited information available. However, the few reported ZEBs appear to show lower overall incremental costs than modeled estimates, possibly due to positive trade-offs with other features in the design and construction process. Those costs range from 0% to 10%.

The report also summarizes recommendations that would encourage additional development of ZEBs such as: practical guidance for the commercial building community including cost information for owners; increased measurement and communication of results on successful design strategies and technology applications; and better benchmarking to define expectations for performance of highly energy efficient buildings.
A copy of the full report and additional information on ZEBs can be found on NBI’s website:
About New Buildings Institute New Buildings Institute
(NBI) is a nonprofit organization working collaboratively with commercial building professionals and the energy industry to promote better energy performance in buildings, including advocating for advanced design practices, improved technologies, public policies and programs that improve energy efficiency.
About the Zero Energy Commercial Building Consortium
The CBC was formally launched in 2009 in response to provisions in the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA). Led by a Steering Committee of prominent national organizations, CBC members include over 450 commercial building stakeholders from a wide range of disciplines that are committed to achieving near-term results and chart a path to the long-term goal of net-zero-energy commercial buildings. Visit the CBC site at
About the National Association of State Energy Officials
The National Association of State Energy Officials (NASEO) serves as the secretariat for the CBC and cosponsored the Getting to Zero report. Formed in 1986, NASEO is the only national non-profit organization whose membership includes the governor-designated energy officials from each of the 56 states and territories. The organization was created to improve the effectiveness and quality of state energy programs and policies, provide policy input and analysis, share successes among the states, and to be a repository of information on issues of particular concern to the states and their citizens.
NOTE TO EDITORS: Materials related to the Getting to Zero report can be found at: These include a link to the report, additional background information, links to a database of case studies and building profiles. JPEG files of all graphs and images from the report are available upon request.