Guest Blog by Garret Stembridge
Going green is no longer as simple as recycling aluminum, plastics and newspapers. Today, businesses are taking additional, extensive measures to minimize their carbon footprint, most significantly with net-zero energy consumption.
Office buildings account for approximately 19 percent of all energy consumption, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, costing an estimated $15.8 billion per year. The high costs and detrimental effects on the environment have sharpened the focus on reducing energy costs and resource usage. Net-zero energy consumption is a growing trend that allows office buildings to generate as much energy as they use. If the building generates more energy than it uses, the excess energy is fed back into the electric grid. If there is a shortfall in energy, these buildings tap into the grid to fill in the gaps.
Net-zero energy buildings are made possible through a combination of innovative building design, cutting edge technology, and energy-efficient appliances. Following are some key components of net-zero energy consumption.
- Cutting Edge Technology: The foundation for net-zero energy buildings is solar power. Solar arrays are used on rooftops and in open fields to generate the energy needed to run office buildings. Additionally, solar thermal panels are used to warm water in hot water heaters that supply sinks and baths. Radiant heating and geothermal systems, further reduce the amount of energy needed for climate control in net-zero energy buildings. Radiant heating systems supply heat directly to the floor, much like the eye of a stove, and can run off of solar power. Geothermal systems draw heat from deep within the earth and use this energy to heat and cool buildings. The potential for this type of alternative energy is significant, and it is estimated that the amount of heat within 33,000 feet of Earth’s surface is 50,000 times more than all of the world’s natural gas and oil resources.
- Innovative Building Design: Various design elements work to reduce the energy that is needed in an office building. Open floor plans prevent cold and hot pockets in buildings. Thicker walls provide more space for insulation and, along with low-emittance coatings on the windows, work to minimize energy consumption on the inside, regardless of the weather outside. Speaking of windows, net-zero office buildings rely on plenty of them to provide natural light and reduce the need for artificial lighting sources.
- Energy Efficient Appliances: The key to eliminating a building’s electric bill is not only to produce energy but to use less. Kitchens and break rooms provide opportunities to conserve energy with more efficient appliances. The Energy Star program aims to help consumers save energy and reduce their carbon footprint by recommending appliances that meet their stringent criteria. Refrigerators, toilets, microwaves, coffee makers, and other office essentials that bare the Energy Star stamp of approval are key to minimizing unnecessary energy consumption.
- Energy Conscious Inhabitants: Even with a solar-powered office, cutting edge technology for heating and cooling, and energy-efficient appliances, net-zero energy buildings rely on conscientious inhabitants to prevent unnecessary energy consumption. Turning off the lights when rooms aren’t in use, ensuring that appliances are being used appropriately, and keeping the doors and windows closed is incumbent on the inhabitants.
While net-zero energy consumption is gaining popularity in office buildings, it is just beginning to catch on in residential homes. This fall has been a big one for the net-zero energy movement, particularly with the grand opening of the Net-Zero Residential Test Facility in Gaithersburg, Maryland. The house, which is operated by the Energy and Environment Division in National Institute of ST’s Engineering Laboratory, will be tested for one year to see if the technologies are ready for mainstream neighborhoods.
While a family doesn’t actually inhabit the very two-story, four-bedroom, three-bath facility, the lights turn on and off and appliances run, replicating a family’s energy usage. According to Under Secretary of Commerce for Standards and Technology and NIST Director Patrick Gallagher, the Net-Zero Residential Test Facility will “allow development of new design standards and test methods for emerging energy-efficient technologies and, we hope, speed their adoption.”
Net-zero energy consumption is an impressive concept. Imagine a world where offices and homes are no longer dependent on the electric grid, and not only make as much energy as they consume, but contribute excess energy back to the grid. With innovative and inexpensive technology, smart home designs, and conscientious residents, net-zero energy consumption is becoming a reality for office buildings and residential homes.
About the Author
Working with storage units users all over the United States, Garret Stembridge helps customers store their stuff in places like the Spring self storage facility. Garret also contributes to the conversation at blog.extraspace.com.