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Bill Roth headshot

The Growth Path For Zero Net Energy Homes

By Bill Roth

Generation Z, the first generation born in the 21st century, will most likely buy a Zero Net Energy (ZNE) home as their first new home purchase. A ZNE home and its promise of low or no monthly utility bills will align with this generation's fiscal prudence gained from the hard lessons of the Great Recession.

ZNE homes will be designed around information age technologies that will be attractive to this generation, many of whom probably held a smart phone or tablet computer before holding a book. And when this generation is ready to buy their first home, their purchase options will be shaped by emerging public policy like California’s Title 24 building code revisions that target all new residential construction being ZNE by 2020.

What is a zero net energy home?

The simplest definition for a ZNE home is a home that annually generates onsite renewable energy that is equal to its annual energy consumption. Today, this definition is already being achieved by thousands of home owners across the U.S. that have installed rooftop solar systems that generate enough electricity to turn their meters back to an annual net zero. But this current solar path to ZNE ignores the economic and environmental benefits of smart and energy efficiency technologies. It is also being challenged by electric utilities claiming a distortion in the cost allocation of grid services when a homeowner can avoid payment to the utility while still using the grid to supply their home with electricity.

California is launching revised building codes in 2014 that approach ZNE home design through a sequence of steps, with the last step being the use of onsite renewable energy generation. California's approach first targets reduction in a home’s energy demand and energy consumption. One key step is the installation of smart building technologies that enable a building’s operation to achieve performance goals measured by cost, reductions in environmental impacts and reduced stress on the electricity grid during peak periods. A second key step is the installation of energy efficiency technologies that reduce consumption and related generation emissions.

Comprehensive building solutions

The design of ZNE homes will be based on an emerging concept of comprehensive building design. Home design will be anchored upon four technologies that can be integrated into a system designed to reduce costs and environmental impacts while also increasing occupants' comfort levels and productivity. The four components of comprehensive building design are:

  1. Smart building systems that will not only operate a building but can arbitrage between forward-looking building operations paths

  2. Energy efficiency lighting and HVAC systems

  3. Rooftop solar systems and/or other sources of onsite renewable generation

  4. Onsite battery systems that can be charged with renewable electricity and dispatched to displace more expensive grid electricity or displace the environmental emissions tied to using fossil fueled grid electricity

The information age technologies incorporated into a comprehensive solution ZNE home will enable home operations to realize target performance results measured by:

  • Occupant comfort and productivity

  • Cost optimization across a range of options including energy efficiency, onsite generation, grid purchases and use of onsite battery storage

  • Demand avoidance during critical grid-peak time periods

  • Reduced environmental impacts

A ZNE home by Stanford University

Stanford University has commissioned a ZNE home as part of their participation in DOE’s Solar Decathlon event. The home will be used by a University work associate and his family that works off campus. The following six minute video interview is with Jacob Schaffert, the lead architect for Stanford’s ZNE home. In this video, Jacob outlines the project’s design path, its costs and the design innovations for achieving mass production of ZNE homes.

Bill Roth is an economist and the Founder of Earth 2017. He coaches business owners and leaders on proven best practices in pricing, marketing and operations that make money and create a positive difference. His book, The Secret Green Sauce, profiles business case studies of pioneering best practices that are proven to win customers and grow product revenues. Follow him on Twitter: @earth2017

This article is the third of a three article series that draws from Bill Roth’s coaching program for trade professionals entitled “How To Grow Sales From Title 24 Code Revisions” that was conducted on November 5, 2013 at the San Diego Gas & Electric Energy Innovation Center.

Read the entire series:

Building Code Revision Launches California Toward Zero Net Energy Buildings

CA Building Code Revision Will Revolutionize Building Efficiency Financing

The Growth Path For Zero Net Energy Homes

Bill Roth headshot

Bill Roth is a cleantech business pioneer having led teams that developed the first hydrogen fueled Prius and a utility scale, non-thermal solar power plant. Using his CEO and senior officer experiences, Roth has coached hundreds of CEOs and business owners on how to develop and implement projects that win customers and cut costs while reducing environmental impacts. As a professional economist, Roth has written numerous books including his best selling The Secret Green Sauce (available on Amazon) that profiles proven sustainable best practices in pricing, marketing and operations. His most recent book, The Boomer Generation Diet (available on Amazon) profiles his humorous personal story on how he used sustainable best practices to lose 40 pounds and still enjoy Happy Hour!

Read more stories by Bill Roth