While there are numerous efforts by utilities and various government bodies to weaken net metering regulations and programs, there is an emerging trend that will eventually make all those discussions meaningless. The emergence of so-called “net zero energy districts” ranging from campus-sized facilities to entire neighborhoods, is beginning to eliminate the need for any electric meters. New development generally means new sources of revenue for utilities. But in the case of emerging net zero energy districts, utilities are still required to absorb costs for transmission and distribution infrastructure, without the expectation of more sales.
In October of last year, during hearings to finalize the 2015 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), the New Buildings Institute (NBI) and its partners put forward some two dozen proposals addressing a diverse set of building technologies and design specifications that would improve commercial building energy performance. Lighting controls and advanced HVAC systems were among the energy-saving technologies to gain ground at the 2015 IECC final action hearings. Improvements in building energy efficiency will complement the growing use of distributed energy resources and together they are leading to the emergence of net zero energy districts.
One example of the trend toward net zero energy districts is UC Davis West Village, a new campus neighborhood located on UC Davis land adjacent to the core campus in Davis, California. It is designed to enable faculty, staff and students to live near campus, take advantage of environmentally friendly transportation options, and participate fully in campus life. Homes for sale to faculty and staff are planned to be priced at below-market values. Student residences will be competitively priced, as compared to other rental options in the City of Davis or on campus, based on location and amenities.
UC Davis West Village is the largest planned zero net energy community in the United States. It is on track to demonstrate, for the first time, that zero net energy is practical on a large scale. The $280 million project is made possible by an innovative public-private partnership; it is supported with nearly $7.5 million in federal and state grants to study zero net energy systems. Energy efficiency measures have reduced projected energy demand by approximately 50 percent as compared to current building code requirements. Renewable energy will meet the remaining energy needs on an annual basis. The project draws on the expertise of UC Davis faculty and research centers. New technologies being explored include the use of a biodigester, developed by a UC Davis professor, to make energy from campus waste. For residents, down-to earth design meets advanced technology with web and smartphone applications for monitoring energy use and saving electricity.
Another example of net zero thinking is taking place within the U.S. military. The Army’s vision is to appropriately manage natural resources with a goal of net zero installations. Today the Army faces significant threats to its energy and water supply requirements both home and abroad. Addressing energy security and sustainability is operationally necessary, financially prudent, and essential to mission accomplishment. The goal is to manage installations not only on a net zero energy basis, but net zero water and waste as well.
A Net Zero Energy Installation (NZEI) is an installation that produces as much energy on site as it uses, over the course of a year. To achieve this goal, Army installations must first implement aggressive conservation and efficiency efforts while benchmarking energy consumption to identify further opportunities. The next step is to utilize waste energy or to “re-purpose” energy. Boiler stack exhaust, building exhausts or other thermal energy streams can all be utilized for a secondary purpose. Co-generation recovers heat from the electricity generation process. The balance of energy needs then are reduced and can be met by renewable energy projects.
Hearings to finalize the 2015 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) wrapped up in Atlantic City last week with big wins for higher efficiency requirements in existing buildings, controls for lighting and daylighting hardware and HVAC equipment specifications. New Buildings Institute (NBI) and its partners put forward some two dozen proposals addressing a diverse set of building technologies and design specifications that would improve commercial building energy performance. The IECC is reviewed and updated every three years and serves as the model energy code for states and local jurisdictions across the country.
In the United States, buildings account for about 40% of the energy consumed and 38% of all CO2 emissions, according to the U.S. Green Building Council. Cost-effective measures that cut the energy used by buildings represent a critical strategy to help building owners save money and curb the impacts of climate change.
"The updates related to existing and historic buildings clarify and further extend the code's impact on the current building stock and will mean large energy savings growing over time," said Jim Edelson, NBI Senior Manager of Codes and Policy. "Taken together, the approved code changes represent the most significant code revisions for energy consumption of existing buildings since the 1970s," he said.
The International Energy Conservation Code applies to both new buildings and work done on existing buildings. While it's pretty obvious how the provisions of the code applied to new buildings, how they were applied to existing buildings was confusing. The provisions apply differently depending on whether the project was an addition, an alteration, or just a repair, and this created confusion for compliance and enforcement.
Code officials and local government representatives voting in Atlantic City approved a new chapter in the IECC that has dedicated sections for additions, alterations and repairs based on work by an International Code Council (ICC) Code Action Committee and the Northwest Energy Codes Group, both of which included NBI participation. The sections of the new chapter clearly define the activity types and describe how the provisions of the code apply. The Northwest proposal that was also approved adds further application guidance and enhanced requirements for many of the activities that are performed on existing buildings.
The IECC, International Existing Buildings Code (IEBC), and the International Property Maintenance Code (IPMC) all address historic buildings. The definition in the IECC was worded in a way that completely exempted historic buildings from every provision of the IECC. The current 'historic buildings' definitions in these three codes differ markedly from each other, and from the International Building Code (IBC). Although many jurisdictions still apply the IECC selectively to historic buildings, this confusing exemption to the code creates a huge missed opportunity for energy savings. Working with the American Institute of Architects (AIA), Preservation Green Lab (PGL), the Washington Association of Building Officials, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Institute for Market Transformation (IMT), NBI clarified the definition of "Historic Building" and reasonably limited the exemption in the IECC. All five proposals were approved and will be in the 2015 I-Codes. In the case of both the commercial and residential IECCs, the new code language eliminates the blanket exemption and now requires the submission of a report detailing why any code provision would be detrimental to the historic character of the building.
With its many partners, NBI built on the success of the daylighting, lighting controls, and lighting power densities (LPD) that were incorporated in the 2012 IECC. Most notably, in working with the International Association of Lighting Designers, NBI assisted in the development of measures that will increase the mandatory installation of occupancy sensors and daylighting controls to many new types of spaces in areas not covered by the 2012 IECC, including warehouses and lounge rooms. In addition, NBI and the Northwest Energy Codes Group successfully included a provision that details how all of the lighting controls must be commissioned. Independently, the IALD successfully introduced a measure that will reduce the LPDs for most types of spaces in commercial buildings.
Again in collaboration with the Northwest Energy Codes Group, there was successful adoption of an important code change addressing high economizer failure rates in new commercial rooftop-type air conditioners. The measure requires that all air-cooled, direct expansion HVAC units (including variable refrigerant flow products) be equipped with a fault detection and diagnostics (FDD) reporting system. This applies to units 4.5 ton or larger with an economizer and says the fault reporting system must be accessible by day-to-day operating personnel or on zone thermostats in the building. The IECC measure was tailored from the California 2013 Title 24 code requirement and reinforces the same minimum system size threshold for the required FDD thereby making it a virtual national standard.