Kickstarting Zero Net Energy in the design space

By 2025: The climate action plan signed by the President in January, pledges to put up to 180,000 new Zero Net Energy homes in the next seven years. This is the fastest growth for Zero Net Energy homes ever recorded globally. Since signing the climate action plan the architects and developers community has met with the COP22 Presidency in December 2017 to agree to actionable targets in collaboration with the World Bank.

Eco: How does Zero Net Energy fit into the world of affordable housing?

Climate: UN reports have identified energy poverty as the next existential threat. Cementing a commitment to zero net energy is critical to securing the energy security we need to fully realize the benefits of clean energy.

Development is a critical path for lifting communities out of poverty, but often at the expense of achieving a decent income, nutrition, and education for the children of our communities. Investing in renewable energy can have a dramatic effect on these economic and social goals. For example, the emissions savings of Zero Net Energy homes exceed their construction and operation costs by about 50 percent. Green buildings globally have the potential to save billions of dollars per year in energy expenditures and avoid up to 6 billion tons of CO2 emissions in the coming decades.

Eco: What do you think the architects and developers sector can do to make zero net energy homes even more attractive?

Climate: The architects and developers sector is already driving innovation and demand. One of our primary focuses is to improve energy performance. Bjarke Ingels is expected to unveil a prototype Zero Net Energy home later this year at the Zaha Hadid School of Architecture. The number of Zero Net Energy projects being delivered today is booming, but we need to hit all sorts of benchmarks and achieve deliverables. The hard numbers have already established the model as the most cost-effective and energy efficient choice for tenants, in many instances besting more traditional models in terms of their return on investment. We need the next five years to continue to push the energy efficiency and renewables power curve as far as we can. We all have a strong role to play in achieving a world with Zero Net Energy by 2030, and this role doesn’t have to be limited to a green look or a “green” finish.

Eco: How can architects and developers re-imagine the look of zero net energy homes to better engage the ordinary?

Climate: Climate change isn’t just about immediate threats – it’s a problem for the future. Developing a path forward for the planet is a global issue, and so the world has to change at the same rate as humanity has previously changed. We can never expect everyone to act in the same ways, and implementing holistic strategies to adapt to climate change is also a challenge for developers. The challenge is not in curbing a particular part of the supply chain or requiring developers to meet certain buildings standards, but rather adaptation to changes that are happening now. The solutions to design and build green buildings are currently being developed, and with the right cooperation, we can increase production and encourage cities around the world to continue the momentum they’ve made in adopting more sustainable forms of development.

I would argue that modern sustainable homes provide the most compelling and attractive proof point that a growing urban population is interested in living in climate-safe, sustainable communities and communities that are powered by renewable energy. Despite this success, there is still a strong interest in incorporating rooftops and balconies in a multifamily unit. There is an urgent need to focus on pushing the design and construction cycle of new zero net energy homes as hard as the energy efficiency of these new homes. Creating an attractive property that exemplifies energy efficiency in a glass and steel package in a typical city setting in the 2030s is challenging, but we should aim for some forward thinking realizations and pioneering steps.

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