By Scott Lewis | Brightworks Founder and CEO
Averting catastrophic impacts of climate change requires us to shift to a zero-carbon economy as quickly as possible. Responsible for about thirty percent of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions, our building stock represents a big opportunity in that economic transformation. Recognizing this, the state of California’s building code is moving toward a code-minimum that requires all new residential buildings achieve Zero Net Energy (ZNE) by the year 2020, and all new commercial buildings ZNE by 2030.
Difficult to achieve in any but the smallest buildings at the single-building scale, net-zero has certain advantages at the campus, portfolio or community scale. At scale, heat and cool can be moved from a waste source in one building to an input in another (i.e. waste heat from a kitchen or lab can pre-heat hot water in a residence hall, etc.), and parking garages and walkways can accommodate photovoltaic panels to help power nearby buildings. At the community or regional scale, generation can happen offsite, and wind, geothermal, and small-scale hydro can enter this mix. At scale, net-zero becomes more exciting (because scale drives results that matter), and more possible.
For the owner of a large campus, key initial questions include “where should we start, what should we do next, and why?” Brightworks in 2014 began helping two large clients – one, a university campus, the other, the campus of a large medical provider – to address these very questions. The approach was straightforward – create an inventory of the entire building stock in the portfolio, figure out which buildings were slated for demolition and when, which were slated for upgrades, and when, and what new construction projects were planned for the next 20-30 years. Line that up with a careful building performance and engineering evaluation of the existing buildings, and then map out the greatest opportunity for impact for each building typology – Academic, Office, Lab, Assembly, Athletic, Food Service, and Parking. The result: a campus-wide energy use roadmap to net zero that clearly reveals the gaps, barriers and opportunties along the path. The report provides a baseline reference for infrastructure and building planning into the future.
Not Just for Campuses
While portfolio and campus owners may benefit from economies of scale, most buildings do not fit into that model. From the bleeding edge of experimental projects like Seattle’s Bullitt Center, to larger government buildings like the National Renewable Energy Lab’s Research Support Facility – Zero Net Energy Buildings are going from theory to reality across different markets. To help designers, developers and public agencies understand the nuances and details of what it takes to start designing and building Net-zero Energy Buildings, Brightworks has been providing free in-house presentation to architects and daylong workshops to the design community and municipal governments. We find this among our most interesting and exciting work; at its core, it begins to get from the “this is really good” or “this is better than code” to the “this is necessary” zone. We all need more of that.