Tag: zero net energy

Real Mitigation of Climate Change: The Path to Zero Net Energy Buildings

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Police Substation, San Diego Community College District, Harley Ellis Devereaux.

Police Substation, San Diego Community College District, Harley Ellis Devereaux.

[Originally published 3rd quarter 2009, in arcCABeyond LEED.”]

Edward Dean, AIA, is an architect who heads the Berkeley office of Harley Ellis Devereaux and Greenworks Studio. Greenworks Studio is a partner company to HED that focuses on sustainability and the design of Zero Net Energy buildings.


This all started (more or less) back in 1973. The Energy Crisis with its sudden fury, fracturing economic and political security, erupted with gas lines and our first experience of surging energy prices. In smart circles, the fix was seen to be higher energy efficiency in our cars, buildings and machines. For whatever sensible and probably necessary reasons, the approach taken was primarily prescriptive: ASHRAE standards nationally and Title-24 in California.

Even though energy prices were rolled back over the following twenty years, leading to a strangely dead period of interest in things related to our very real (as it turned out) energy peril, the detailed, prescriptive treatment of buildings and energy settled in and became the norm. Even the so-called performance approach, which theoretically modeled building energy use, was prescribed in ways often unrelated to the building’s actual energy use.

It is little surprise, then, that, with the emergence of the societal sensibility about sustainability in the early 1990s and the founding of the USGBC, a strongly prescriptive approach would be the basis for LEED certification. And that’s when the whole approach to the problem of energy use in buildings went wrong.

First of all, in the absence of a national energy code, LEED became the method of choice across the United States, ensuring that its approach to lowering energy use in buildings would become the standard. This happened in spite of documentation requirements that were soon perceived to be onerous and substantial fees to cover the cost of certification review. As might be expected, the pace of change within the industry has not been dramatic. Even now, according to the USGBC, only about five to six percent of all new commercial construction is even registered for basic LEED certification.

But the fundamental problem with the reliance on LEED is that it simply has had no effect on the actual energy use of its certified buildings and, perhaps even more fundamentally, does not address aggressively enough the most pressing environmental and political energy issues of our day: climate change and the international politics of fossil fuel resources.

Climate change is the real issue, and it is, more than anything else, a building design issue. Nationally, buildings are the largest consumers of energy at 40% of total use (in California, transportation beats out buildings, but not by much), accounting also for 70% of all electric energy consumption. Since this energy use equates directly to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, the driver of climate change, building design is both the problem (current design) and the solution (future design). To drive this point home, consider that three-fourths of the coal-fired power plants on the drawing boards in the U.S. right now will go to operate new buildings designed to current standards.

LEED and Energy Use Reduction: No Correlation

The LEED approach to energy use is packaged within its larger approach to sustainability, and it began by trying to address all site and building issues more or less equally, or so it seems. Thus, there are points for site, water conservation, recycling, indoor air quality, and energy use. Of the 110 points possible in the current version, only 33 are concerned with energy use and on-site, renewable energy supply. This is only a 7% increase (from 23% to 30% of total possible points) for reduction of fossil fuel use compared with Version 2.2. That is, the one sustainability issue that is at crisis level—climate change and its primary causal agent, GHG emissions—merits only a nominal increase in importance and has a fractional effect on the overall LEED rating.

Reliance on LEED to make significant headway on climate change is further brought into question by the fact that LEED-certified buildings have performed relatively poorly after being occupied. They show no pattern of reduced energy use, whether they are Platinum-rated or just plain Certified. A 2008 analysis by the New Buildings Institute (NBI) of the energy performance of new non-residential buildings that were LEED-certified over the previous nine years revealed these surprising facts. As Edward Keegan notes in the October 2008 issue of Architect magazine, the study found that only half the buildings studied had any actual performance data for that period of time and, for the ones that did, the calculated Energy Star score was “shockingly low.”

The accompanying chart shows the distribution of actual energy use performance for all levels of LEED certified buildings in the NBI study. Note that the two LEED Platinum buildings are out-performed by a number of simple LEED-certified buildings at the left of the array, which is arranged from left to right by energy performance.

If LEED is not the fast-enough track to a solution, what is? Ratcheting up the building energy standards and codes would help, but these changes typically lag behind the pace that the building industry needs to keep. In addition, regulation requires analysis methods that use uniform assumptions about building operations, and typical current code requirements cannot go beyond the permit issuance point, which means that there will be little or no correlation between building energy use models and actual performance when occupied. Standards and codes constitute another approach that falls short of the results needed.

The 2030 Challenge and the Path to Zero Net Energy Buildings

There is really only one approach that is aggressive and effective enough to meet the critical timeline set by the scientific community (see J. Hansen et al., Target Atmospheric CO2: Where Should Humanity Aim?, 7 April 2008 (New York) Columbia University Earth Institute and NASA/Goddard Institute for Space Studies), which is also technically feasible and realistically achievable for the design professions right now: the 2030 Challenge.

Announced only three years ago by Architecture 2030 and the AIA, the 2030 Challenge sets a series of target energy use performance levels starting immediately, which get progressively reduced until 2030, when every new building and existing building retrofit designed from that year forward will be carbon neutral. That is, at that time every new design will use zero GHG-emitting energy (fossil fuel based energy) to operate. These new buildings that everyone in the profession will be designing after 2030 if the Challenge succeeds are even now developing a buzz under the name Zero Net Energy Buildings or ZNEBs.

What makes these milestone targets for net annual energy use feasible is not only the reduction of net energy loads in the building through better design, but the gradual replacement of the fossil fuel energy sources with on-site renewable sources of energy (primarily photovoltaic systems), off-site renewable sources, or the purchase of a limited amount of carbon offsets. The ultimate goal, the ZNEB, is the designed balance between the minimized energy loads and the right-sized renewable energy production system.

These 2030 Challenge targets, soundly based on scientific and economic studies, will drive GHG emissions down to 1990 levels by 2030, as shown in the accompanying graph. This is the goal for arresting the climate change phenomenon.


The 2030 Challenge will actually achieve the targeted reductions in energy use, because it is a design approach based in the real-performance world rather than a prescriptive or regulatory approach based in the model world. Because it is based on actual performance after occupancy rather than what a prescribed energy model says, these reductions will be real. (In fact, the energy use performance during this post-occupancy period will be so important to clients that the traditional set of phases for professional services could be affected.)

While the 2030 Challenge is the right map to the right goal, is it really plausible that the design professions are up to the task? With a year to go to the first milestone, can the professions routinely deliver new buildings one year from now that use only 50% of the energy of the general existing building stock and 0% in 2030?

The California state government seems to think so.

The CPUC and the Energy Commission have adopted the goal of all new commercial buildings constructed to ZNE levels by 2030, consistent with the 2030 Challenge. Following this lead, in its Climate Change Proposed Scoping Plan, the California Air Resources Board has also targeted 2030 as the beginning of the era of Zero Net Energy commercial buildings (ZNE homes in 2020). In addition, the California Division of the State Architect, which regulates and controls plan approval for all K-12 schools and community college buildings in the state, has announced that, beginning in December 2010, all building plans must show designs that are “grid neutral,” i.e., zero net electric energy. Like the 2030 Challenge, no prescriptive methods are given, just the design targets.

The design professions simply need to focus on the design methods needed to achieve the target performance for each 2030 Challenge milestone, using a holistic process rather than a piecemeal approach. The design tools exist to evaluate design concepts for daylighting, natural displacement ventilation, and human comfort in ambient environments and to present them in strongly visual ways for communication and decision-making. This holistic process is leading to a greater integration and participation of technical disciplines from the beginning of the design concept. Architects need to embrace this change and take advantage of the outcomes. (They will also need to find and work with engineers who are comfortable with the design process as architects know it.)

Looking toward the ultimate goal, we have twenty years to hone the process and make the design of Zero Net Energy Buildings a routine practice. Using the design tools available today, a number of firms are already blazing the trail to this goal. In the competitive market of architecture, these firms have an important head start and will win new clients interested in the value-added proposition of entirely eliminating their utility bills while doing their part to save the planet.

Now that’s an attractive idea, too.


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Architecture at Zero 2012

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Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) and AIA San Francisco, in collaboration with UC Merced, have announced the winners of Architecture at Zero 2012. Almost fifty entries were submitted from students and professionals around the world, showcasing the best of zero net energy design. All entries can be viewed online, and winning entries are being displayed in the Architecture at Zero 2012 exhibition at AIA San Francisco (130 Sutter St., Suite 600, San Francisco) from November 1 – December 20.

The Architecture at Zero 2012 competition was conceived as a response to the zero net energy targets set out by the California Public Utility Commission (CPUC) in the 2008 report, California’s Long Term Energy Efficiency Strategic Plan. In this report, the CPUC set out four “Big Bold Energy Efficiency Strategies” for California that include the goals that all new residential construction in California be ZNE by 2020 and that all new commercial construction be ZNE by 2030.

Jurors for the competition were Edward Mazria,
Founder, Architecture 2030; Alison Kwok,
Professor, University of Oregon; Stephen Selkowitz, 
Program Head, Building Technologies Department, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL); and Susan Szenasy, 
Editor-in-Chief, METROPOLIS magazine.

Architecture at Zero 2012 is sponsored by the PG&E Zero Net Energy Pilot Program, an exploratory research and technical advisory program that is dedicated to furthering the knowledge-building and practice of ZNE building in California.

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AIACC Participates in CPUC Energy Efficiency Curriculum Planning

in: Public Policy / 1 Comment
energy efficiency, conservation, green buildings, CPUC

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The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) has set an ambitious goal of zero net energy for all new residential construction projects in California by 2020 and for all new commercial projects by 2030. The CPUC is looking to the utilities to create strategies to implement these goals.

To facilitate deeper engagement with our utility partners, AIACC recently participated in an advisory panel to assist PG&E’s Pacific Energy Center to explore creating a multi-level architecture/integrated design curriculum responding to the priorities of the California Long-term Energy Efficiency Strategic Plan and the California Workforce Education and Training Needs Assessment for Energy Efficiency, Distributed Generation, and Demand Response.

The advisory panel included building science and energy efficiency experts, principals from California architecture and engineering firms, and individuals involved in education and training programs at various California utilities.

PG&E’s goal is to create an integrated design curriculum that could eventually serve as a model for a ‘low energy building design’ certification program for architects and designers. Because the integrated design curriculum, its implementation, and its goals are still in the formative stages, the AIACC’s participation is critical to help create a strong, practical, and reasonable curriculum that meets the needs of practitioners and practice. Participation in this process demonstrates how architects can participate in the energy conservation discussion as advocates, both in the building industry and beyond.
In spite of California’s long history as a leader in energy efficiency; it remains the 12th largest emitter of carbon in the world. Nearly every state agency is dedicated to reducing energy consumption and curbing climate change on some level, through energy efficiency policies, research, new building standards, green purchasing, improvement of air quality and reduction of other environmental toxins, consumer incentive plans, and public awareness programs.

The effect of climate change has an impact on every industry today, but perhaps none more so than the building industry. According to some studies, more than half of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. result from buildings and their construction. This includes energy used in the production and transportation of materials to building construction sites, as well as the energy used to operate buildings. Countless studies have demonstrated that significant savings can be derived from green buildings, including the reduction of energy, water, and waste; lower operations and maintenance costs; and enhanced user productivity, morale, and wellness.

Clearly there are many opportunities for architects to participate as a group and as individuals with these transformations that are affecting our world. Architects have the creative vision, the collaborative nature, and the planning tools that make them uniquely qualified to assist cities, counties, the state, developers and other clients, allied building industry groups, and the myriad other organizations who are grappling with these issues.

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Energy Efficiency Requirements and the Future of Practice in California

in: Public Policy / 7 Comments

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For the past year and a half I have been the acting AIACC Liaison to the California Energy Commission (CEC), reporting directly to the AIACC State Agency Liaison Committee (SALC). In addition, during the same period, I have been educating architectural firms about the value of adding Applied Building Science services to their practice through a PG&E-sponsored educational program entitled “Moving Architects Toward Building Performance.” In speaking to over 150 Architects, both AIA and non-AIA members, one aspect of our profession has become clear. Many architects are out of touch with the thermal performance of the buildings they design, regardless of a strong belief that there are practicing energy efficiency. Thermal performance analysis is relegated to the Mechanical, Electrical & Plumbing (MEP) engineers in large projects and deferred to a mechanical contractor in small ones. While architects have neglected the thermal performance of their building envelopes, the CEC has made the building envelope the highest priority. As a result, the 2013 Energy Code will require mandatory schematic design review of non-residential buildings by a registered Professional Engineer (PE), specifically excluding architects. And its requirements can have substantial, visible impact on building form; for example, it will require architects to choose between what, for many, is an unfamiliar construction technique—rigid insulation outboard of metal studs—and limitations on the allowed area of glazing. Does this mean that architects are losing control of the way buildings will look?

There is one certainty with the proposed 2013 Energy Code changes; whether it means revenue gained or lost, all architectural firms will be spending more time providing a rising “standard of care” for Energy Efficiency services to clients. These services will include some form of building science-based thermal modeling analysis, energy efficiency design, detailing, construction and compliance verification / commissioning; or adding a mix of specialty consultants to projects that will provide these services, such as CEA Energy Consultants, Commissioning Professionals, Home Energy Rating System (HERS) II Raters, HERS Compliance Testing, Green Point Raters, and LEED AP Professionals.

Considering the changing profile of architectural firms in California (mega vs. petite firms, with not much in between) the simplest option is to add the mix of specialty consultants to a project and pass these fees on to the client; that is, if the project can afford it. The downside of this option is the architect continues to lose credibility and design influence over their projects, not to mention potential billable services. As the CEC’s Zero Net Energy goals for non-residential construction are targeted for 2030, and large scale Applied Building Science is in its infancy, it is understandable why the large commercial architecture firms would see no urgency.

On the other hand, as Applied Building Science is booming in the small building sector (residential and small commercial) and as California’s Zero Net Energy goals for residential construction are targeted for 2020, the petite architectural firms in California do have something to worry about, are interested, and have been listening. Simply put, their livelihood may depend on it. When considered, it becomes obvious that adding energy modeling and applied building science services puts a petite architectural practice back in the energy efficiency game, exactly where an architect should be.

The architectural community needs to begin a dialogue on California’s Energy Efficiency Plan, and if it means starting only with those who are listening, then let’s start. It is too late for the AIACC to meaningfully participate in the 2013 code cycle, but not too late to become informed and prepared to assist and debate the technical realities of California’s long range energy efficiency goals.

So, did you know:

  • The AIA has not had a working relationship with the California Energy Commission for thirty years.
  • The CEC and the California Public Utilities Commission consider practicing architects lacking in energy efficiency knowledge and skills.
  • PG&E is creating an extensive energy efficiency training program for architects, because of the insufficient energy efficiency education provided to students in all California NCARB accredited institutions.
  • Architects are not included among the approved professionals in the statewide Energy Upgrade California program.
  • The Savings By Design Energy Efficiency Integration Awards, given independently of but in parallel with the annual AIACC Design Awards, challenge the absence of such criteria in the AIACC awards.
  • The general public believes that LEED certification ensures energy efficiency, yet the first LEED for Homes Platinum House in Berkeley and has proven, in an LBNL Deep Energy Retrofit Study, to be a poor example of energy efficient design.

To initiate a dialogue on energy efficiency in California, the following discussion points are offered:

  • Do architects really think the Zero Net Energy (ZNE) ambitions of the State are realistic?
  • Who is responsible for the energy efficiency of the buildings architects design; the architect or the energy consultant?
  • Is energy efficiency a Health, Safety & Welfare (HSW) issue tied to architectural licensure?
  • Will California establish a licensing procedure for energy efficiency consultants, and will architects lose their current responsibility for energy efficiency HSW?
  • Will the California Architectural Board start requiring energy efficiency continuing education for architects?
  • Will the CEC establish a certification process for a Building Performance Architect, as they have for a Building Performance Contractor?
  • If architects lose the HSW responsibility for energy efficiency, will the exterior appearance of buildings become the purview of a new energy efficiency engineering profession?

Thank you for your interest; we look forward to your comments.

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Holcim Award for Anderson Anderson Architecture

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zero net energy, zero energy, portable classroom, energy-neutral, Anderson Anderson Architecture, Holcim Foundation, Holcim Awards, award, Hawaii, economically disadvantaged, Peter Anderson, Mark Anderson, Autodesk, REVIT, BIM

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For their design of an energy-neutral portable classroom for the State of Hawaii, Anderson Anderson Architecture of San Francisco recently won the Holcim North America Acknowledgement Prize in a competition conducted by the Swiss-based Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction.

zero net energy, zero energy, portable classroom, energy-neutral, Anderson Anderson Architecture, Holcim Foundation, Holcim Awards, award, Hawaii, economically disadvantaged, Peter Anderson, Mark Anderson, Autodesk, REVIT, BIM

© Anderson Anderson Architecture

More than 6,000 submissions for projects located in 146 countries competed in the current round of awards, which promote sustainable responses to contemporary technological, environmental, socioeconomic, and cultural issues from the building and construction industry. AIACC Editor-in-Chief, Tim Culvahouse, FAIA, recently asked Peter Anderson, FAIA, about it.

Peter Anderson: The award is for our Zero Energy Relocatable Classroom project, commissioned by the State of Hawaii Department of Education as a prototype for replacement of up to 10,000 outmoded portables currently in use in the islands. While there is no commitment to use our design past the prototype, that was the stated intention of the competitive selection process.

The award is given to projects not yet complete, but readily feasible, so it is not supposed to be an ideas-only award. Part of the intention is to help spur along worthwhile projects that might need the extra push of attention or design funding.

Our project is fortunately already under construction—in fact, nearing completion, being built off-site as a complete structure in a factory near Portland, Oregon. It will then be disassembled into three large components, put on a ship at the Port of Seattle, and shipped to Hawaii. Its end location is at a grade school in an economically disadvantaged area of Oahu called Ewa Beach.

© Anderson Anderson Architecture

Tim Culvahouse: Where could our readers go for more information?

PA: For information on the design of the building, one of the best sources would be the page on our website. The other good source is a website that Autodesk has created, profiling a series of case studies on innovative uses of Revit/BIM software for sustainable design.

© Anderson Anderson Architecture

TC: Would you recommend the Holcim Awards program to other architects?

Peter Anderson: For projects that meet the qualifications, absolutely! We didn’t win one of the larger cash prizes, but—I have to say—the category in which we won had a larger prize than any awards program or competition we’ve ever done, including ones where we got the top prize. So, no complaints . . . and we are automatically in the running for the Holcim Global Innovation prizes in the spring. And they did treat us very well at the awards ceremony: flying us to DC, limo, red carpets, cocktail parties with senators, fancy hotels and dinners. Felt like the Big Time . . . briefly . . . then, alas, back to normalcy.

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