There has been a lot of buzz about carbon neutral and net zero buildings and I decided to take a closer look at what this noise is all about.
What is a Net Zero Building?
Simply speaking a net zero building produces as much energy (or more) than it uses in a year. A carbon neutral building on the other hand does not use any fossil fuels in its operation.
What's the significance?
You can count a number of reasons to reduce or eliminate our dependence on fossil fuel. From the contentious issue of global warming to the politically popular 'national security'. To me, a habitat is on life support if it's not capable of supporting the basic needs of its occupants*.
The goal of Carbon Neutral buildings is good but not enough in itself. There is a greater push for such buildings in developed economies because of the significant amount of energy used by buildings there and energy supply or national security considerations. In my view developing countries should be more careful in implementing strategies about the booming building industry. Net zero building should be defined more broadly as a building or system that offsets the resources used in production/construction as well as operation. I used the word 'resources' instead of energy as there are much greater implications of construction activities including loss of food production (agricultural land), environmental and cultural impact and our most valuable resource- drinking water.
Is carbon Neutral and NZB the same as 'green' building?
Not really. Most of the 'green' building standards like LEED or GRIHA cover many aspects of the building design like recycled reclaimed material use or occupant comfort and well-being. Carbon Neutral and NZB focus on the energy use of the building.
Reduce energy use: Building orientation, Building insulation, energy efficient glazing, daylighting, energy efficient lighting fixtures, smart lighting controls, geothermal
Generate Energy: microgeneration, solar cells, wind turbines,
The Aldo Leopold Foundation Headquarters, Wisconsin, United States
12,000 SF LEED Platinum
Adam Joseph Lewis center for environmental studies, Oberlin OH United States
The building official website provides some really interesting information including a live net energy usage graph.
* How we define our basic needs is an important consideration.