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Pathways to net zero carbon buildings in reach around the world today

Sustainable Building Materials


Net and nearly zero energy definitions usually focus on onsite or near-site renewable energy production which limits their application to select buildings. This article highlights what net zero carbon buildings entail and how policy can spur their adoption in not just technologically advanced countries but also in places where you'd least expect them.

Perspectives and insights

  • Some consider net zero carbon buildings a goal beyond reach because of the perception that a building needs to be highly energy efficient and generating its own renewable energy to qualify – that’s not the only way to achieve effective building decarbonization however.
  • One interesting use is to have electric vehicles as energy storage devices to store excess electricity generated by solar or wind during times when these sources are abundantly available.
  • A potential application is to use buildings with large roofs, such as malls and warehouses, to become net generators of renewable energy for other nearby buildings.

Xoologue - a discussion between Xoo and Moo

Moo: That’s a pretty great concept, wouldn’t you agree, Xoo? The idea of a building sharing clean energy generated, so a building that generates surplus can share it with a neighbouring building that needs it!

Xoo: Indeed, Moo. This is what’s becoming known as virtual power plants. A very interesting development.

Moo: What do you think of the potential of these virtual power plants to produce a large number of net zero buildings?

Xoo: Good question, Moo. It depends on the region, and what I call the height quotient.

Moo: Is that a new term that you have invented, Xoo - height quotient?

Xoo: It’s safe to say that I have not come across that anywhere. But, come, let’s get serious and let me try to explain height quotient of a region and it’s correlation to net zero buildings.

Moo: I’m all ears.

Xoo: There are two aspects to a height quotient – mean and standard deviation. The mean represents the average height of a building in that region & standard deviation is the SD of these heights.

Moo: That’s easy to understand. Go on.

Xoo: For a region that has a low mean, regardless of what the standard deviation is, there is a good chance that the net zero buildings could predominate, especially if you use the virtual power plant concept. For a region with a high mean, things get a bit more interesting - for regions with a high standard deviation, virtual power plant concept could to a certain extent make many net zero buildings that otherwise wouldn’t have been, on their own. For those regions with high means and low standard deviations, Moo , I doubt the buildings can get net zero anytime soon.

Moo: Sounds like this is something to chew upon. And I can now understand why the average height of the building in a region is so important to the concept of net zero

Xoo: I’ve mentioned it earlier too, Moo. You’ve got the brains but you just have to use them more often.