Net-Zero Energy

Net-zero buildings meet their energy use via renewable energy sources

With programs like the 2030 Commitment, designers are pursuing incrementally stringent energy reduction targets following a path towards net-zero energy buildings by the year 2030. Not only must design firms meet these aggressive energy targets across their practices, they also must envision the next generation of buildings that look ahead to 2030, reaching net-zero energy today.

With only 17 years between now and 2030, SmithGroup is staying ahead of the curve having designed three buildings to reach the elusive net-zero goal.

Net-zero energy buildings meet all of their energy use through on-site renewable energy sources. Given the cost premium for renewables, SmithGroup's approach towards designing net-zero energy buildings begins with aggressive energy conservation, thereby reducing the need for larger renewable systems. Conservation measures typical in net-zero buildings include highly insulated exterior envelopes, triple-glazed windows, exterior sun-shading, daylighting, natural ventilation, high-efficiency HVAC systems, and plug load management. Energy 

modeling and simulation tools are vital to the process of designing net-zero energy buildings, informing design decisions at every step, incrementally reducing the anticipated energy use of a building, while predicting the output of renewable systems.

SmithGroup's design for the Brock Environmental Center includes conservation approaches predicted to reduce the annual energy use intensity from an average value of 90 kBTU/sf down to 19 kBTU/sf. A 38.8 kW, on-site photovoltaic array and two 10 kW wind turbines will produce 21 kBTU/sf each year, allowing some contingency to account for unexpected climate fluctuations.

The International Living Futures Institute's Net Zero Energy Building Certification provides third-party verification that net-zero energy goals have been achieved successfully during a full year of building operation. The SmithGroup-designed Phoenix, Arizona offices for DPR Construction produced more on-site energy than it consumed over the course of a year and earned the firm's first Net-Zero Energy building certification.