In 2008, California proposed an initiative striving for all new commercial construction to qualify as zero net energy buildings by 2030. “In the past decade,” Columbia’s Director of Sustainability Conor McGuire explains “zero net energy buildings have gone from being a hypothetical ideal to being practical and possible to create.” For a building to qualify as zero net energy, it is designed and utilized to strike an even balance between the energy consumed and the energy produced by its solar panels. In 2014, Columbia completed construction of the first zero net energy office building in Massachusetts - the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, and is in pre-construction on a project at Williams College which will also meet ZNE qualifications.
When speaking about zero net energy buildings, Conor McGuire outlines the major steps necessary to achieve the goal. Primarily, the amount energy the site is capable of producing must be determined, taking both natural and manmade constraints into consideration. Once that is established, the team must determine how big the building will be. They must take into account that more floors will mean more energy consumed, and the solar panel array will have to produce enough energy to balance that. Then the building itself should be deliberately designed with the goal of maintaining that balance – by utilizing punched out windows as opposed to ribbon walls of glass in order to better maintain desired temperatures inside, for example. Although design elements are extremely important when constructing with ZNE in mind, the future tenants must also be considered. No matter what the design of the building, if the occupants are not mindful of the amount of energy consumed then the ZNE goal will not be met. Conor and Columbia have now successfully navigated all of these stages and can bring that experience to the table on future projects.
ZNE is a trend that is growing and will in time be the norm for new construction projects. In fact, Santa Monica just voted to require all new single family homes built in 2017 to meet zero net energy requirements! Conor is very willing to share his vast knowledge, and has given presentations on the subject to various groups since the spring of 2016. He recently spoke to the USGBC Massachusetts Chapter and at ASHRAE, and will soon be visiting a local engineering firm at their office. Be sure to reach out to Conor and Columbia if you are interested in learning more about zero net energy buildings!
Conor will also be participating in a panel at ABX 2016 in a couple of weeks, check that out as well!