The idea of Net (or Near) Zero Energy Buildings is simple. Buildings can dramatically reduce their energy consumption through super-insulation, proper design and solar orientation, high-performance windows and high efficient appliances, lighting and equipment.
And they can be equipped with solar photovoltaic array, or other renewable energy systems to meet all the remaining energy needs.
These buildings may consume more energy what they generate in some cloudy days, or during the night, or some periods of the winter. But on an annual basis they can produce as much or more energy than they use.
Zero energy buildings (ZEB), Zero net energy buildings (ZNEB), Net Zero energy buildings (NZEB), Net zero buildings, or Nearly Zero Energy Buildings (NZEB) are different terms for the same type of building. See: Zero Energy Buildings
And that has enormous implications.
Zero energy buildings give us the opportunity to solve our energy conundrum and to stop climate change.
Zero energy buildings and the electric vehicle network
A large part of the energy consumed by buildings can be freed-up and allocated elsewhere, that is, to electric vehicles and the industry; furthermore, ZE buildings can generate more energy than the one they need; that is, they can supply a considerable part of the energy needed by the eletric vehicles and the industry.
It will not be easy, of course. Renovating millions of buildings and implementing strategies to make new buildings Zero Energy is a very difficult task. But it is not infeasible, or too costly, or dependent on future technological developments.
There are billions of leaky and inefficient houses, apartments, warehouses, hospitals, schools, skyscrapers and other buildings needing energy improvements that are not easy to implemen; it will take several decades until most buildings are Energy Zero, even with the right approach and policies.
But these difficulties do not mean that it is impossible. Or that homes and electricity will have to cost more.
Zero Energy Buildings Are not a wild Green Dream
There are dozens of multinational corporations installing large arrays of solar electric panels (and implementing energy efficiency strategies). Google, Walmart, Toyota and dozens of other big corporations...
They are not building ZEB, but the fact they are installing large solar arrays (and implementing energy efficient strategies) is a proof that solar photovoltaic and renewables, and the approach behind ZEB buildings is already cost-competitive in large scale projects, properly managed.
The problem of storing the electricity produced by the renewables - including that produced by ZEB buildings – exists, but it is not a major problem in the near term.
Contrary to a widespread assumption, electrical grids are not having difficulty storing the energy produced by the wind industry or by solar photovoltaic facilities, nor will they have significant problems to accommodate the green electricity produced by Zero Energy buildings in the next few decades.
That issue would be difficult to resolve if the green electricity production raised suddenly to very high levels (above, say, 50% of the total power production). We have not yet figured out how to manage the storage of such levels of renewable power. But that’s not the case for the next decade (or decades), even in an optimistic scenario.
An investigation of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory's (NREL) - the Renewable Electricity Futures Study (RE Futures) concludes that: «Renewable electricity generation from technologies that are commercially available today, in combination with a more flexible electric system, is more than adequate to supply 80% of total U.S. electricity generation in 2050 while meeting electricity demand on an hourly basis in every region of the country».
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