Net Zero Energy Requirements May be Coming Soon

The concept of a Net Zero Energy Building (NZEB) is one in which the building produces all the energy it needs over a 12-month period by using on-site renewable energy resources, such as solar panels and LED lighting. These conservation measures are incorporated into a building’s design to reduce energy consumption and make the building self-sufficient.

Currently, there are only a handful of highly-efficient buildings in the country which meet the criteria for a NZEB, but the idea is gaining momentum and starting to move from concept to reality. HUD is among the governmental organizations looking to incorporate net zero energy efficiency criteria into its requirements for subsidized affordable housing.

In January 2010, HUD committed to creating energy-efficient, green and healthy housing as part of a broader effort to develop inclusive, sustainable communities. Researchers have found commercial and residential buildings are among the top energy users, making green building design one of the primary means to lower energy consumption.

Renew300 is a joint effort by HUD, US Department of Agriculture, and Treasury to expand the use of solar energy and other renewable energy resources in federally-assisted housing. In July 2015, HUD and the Department of Energy announced an expansion of the Federal renewable energy target from 100 megawatts to 300 megawatts of solar and other renewable energy resources for Federally-assisted housing.

What do these standards mean for affordable housing? While the strict standard for a NZEB is not currently required at the Federal level, states such as California are aggressively moving in this direction. California currently leads the nation, with 137 verified or anticipated net-zero buildings. This is not surprising since the state has set ambitious targets for all new residential buildings to be net zero by 2020, and all new commercial buildings to be net zero by 2030.

Starting in January 2020, California will implement codes for new housing construction requiring solar panels for low-rise housing three stories and under. Many affordable housing units fit within this scope. While the new code will not require net zero for all energy to be produced from renewables, it will require installation of solar panels based on the project size, number of bedrooms, square footage and climate zone. These factors will be built into an equation to determine the number of solar panels required for a project.

In phase two, the code will be expanded to all new construction for buildings four stories and above. While the new code will initially only apply to new construction, discussion is underway within the California Energy Commission, which ultimately oversees this section of the code, to consider expansion of the code for net zero criteria to existing buildings.

As changes are contemplated and decisions made, CCH is keeping its finger to the pulse of this ever-evolving landscape.

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