Simply stated, Zero Net Energy Buildings produce as much energy (or more) than they use. Also referred to as Zero Net, Net Zero or Zero Net Energy (ZNE), I have lived in a ZNE home for over 5 years now and we started “designing” it (at least in my mind) long before purchasing the property it now sits on. Take a look at the first video we created in October, 2010, shortly after closing on the land, while walking the site right HERE: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EGIJdxICg5c . It’s not too exciting I know, it was windy and the microphone was not great, but it was the beginning of a long process that we can now look back on that was very successful.
Why do it? Because we could! Really, that was the whole point of building a ZNE home way back then; adding an educational website to go with it; and explaining/demonstrating to the public that the technologies and economics required to do it were already available to all of us. Seven years have gone by (fast) since the first logging skidder entered the lot to clear trees for a driveway, and even though ZNE buildings are still not “mainstream” construction today, I am very surprised by how much they have been adopted all over the country…..and the world since then. I never would have imagined 10 years ago, when we first began searching for land to do this, that the country would evolve this quickly in this direction. I’m no genius (reminded every day), but I do put my money where my mouth is.
If this topic, or our project, even remotely interests you, here are lots of places you can go to see/learn more about it:
NH HOME MAGAZINE: http://bit.ly/1AKnjna
PROUD GREEN HOME: https://www.proudgreenhome.com/news/zero-energy-building-construction-moving-to-mainstream/
Did you take a look?
If yes, you got it, it should have been clear that, even back then, we were intentionally demonstrating that something ZNE did not have to be small or unattractive or plain or stark to be ZNE. You don’t have to go “without”, you simply have to do it more efficiently and with tighter design and construction standards…… and also use some technology. 10 years ago, a lot of the early attempts to go Net Zero were not very commercially appealing. After all, you actually want to live in a home and feel “normal”, and then be able to resell it later if you want to. Today you can go around the country and see all sizes and types and shapes of fantastic buildings that are ZNE, which was also our point when we started. Builders are now creating entire developments that are Zero Net. Heck, whole communities are passing resolutions to be “Zero Net” by certain dates in the future. Energy efficient buildings, which by their very nature have low energy consumption, can be complimented with new technologies and renewable energy features to completely negate their total energy needs in the course of a 365 day cycle. In particular, our follow-up newsletters have included links to some of these projects located all over country that are ZNE or near ZNE.
Bingo! It’s simply easier and more cost effective (today) now to accomplish it, after technology pricing points have fallen and early adoption has cleared the way. We installed our solar panels and went live on the grid 9 months before achieving building occupancy, running on our own solar power for the construction of the project ………and consequently have had a surplus in our utility net energy “bank”ever since. Today, nearly 6 years after our solar installation, new solar panels can produce 50% more output at the same size and cost half as much as what we used on this project…….and despite that, we are well past midway of recovering our energy generation and efficiency investments in less than 10 years. Technology innovation is not going to stop, in fact, it is driving our economy and changing our lives every day. It may look a little different in the “built environment”, but there is rapid change there none the less.
ROSE COTTAGE PROJECT -Oct 2012 (Photo by Intrepid Aerial Photography)
Imagine for a moment if your electrical energy and fuel costs were negative every year ……….for 5 years, like ours. Now add that up for 10, 15, 20, 25 years. Does that light bulb start to go bright? Anyone (we are really talking corporate America here) who is applying a hard 18-24 month payback criteria to evaluate energy investments simply has it wrong. I know, let the arrows fly, I’m good at ducking. Please……… calculate your R.O.I. on energy investments, not your payback in years. In my humble opinion, that applies to all capital projects. Yes, it is a simpler decision for homeowners to justify the investment, if they have the money, because their planning horizons are longer. For most home owners, where else do you find double digit investment return opportunities ………investing in yourself, no less. Businesses have boards and stockholders ……..and even worse, “Wall Street”, looking for quarterly returns to hit quarterly targets. However, you can’t afford to be your own worst enemy in business either. You are in new England. You are in New Hampshire. Energy prices over the long term don’t go down ……. they only go up. New Hampshire energy policies don’t sit on an island either, as the 10-state ISO-NE runs the grid we are part of. Expecting someone else (government, utilities, regulators, politicians, whoever…….) to somehow magically lower your energy costs,without doing harm to someone else in the process, is simply NOT GOING TO HAPPEN. I’m ready to duck again! However, that is the truth as I see it. It does not win me a lot of friends on my own side of the political isle. Question: Have you looked at how much money your company is paying towards the regulated utility company’s fixed costs for Transmission and Distribution and Capacity?? ……….I rest my case.
ROSE COTTAGE PROJECT- 2014 (Photo by John W. Hession)
Look HERE: http://nhenergy.blogspot.com/2017/09/solar-power-in-nh-part-5-financing.html to find a good solar article and a solar calculator done by Professor Mike Mooiman at Franklin Pierce University here in New Hampshire. He writes a killer energy blog. His spreadsheet calculator (which you can download and use) is set up for residential options for solar investments. It does not include an IRS depreciation or expensing option, which would be included for a “business” purchase. It also does not include the option of using a combination of debt and equity, which is also used for many “project” financing business models…… but it will help you ballpark a basic project. Businesses who may be looking to install a solar PV system <100KW have a lot to get excited about in New Hampshire. Larger businesses who might need a much larger electrical generator should examine co-generation alternatives, especially if you have access to natural gas and don’t have a lot of roof or land area for solar……… too bad for you that nobody was advocating for you at the NHPUC in the most recent net metering rate case!
If you truly want to spend less money on buying fuel and electricity in New Hampshire………….simply buy less. You buy less by investing in: building and process efficiency; new technologies that don’t use fuel (like air-air or air-water or water-water heat pumps); and technologies to produce some of your own electricity. Invest in enough of that stuff, and then you can head towards a “zero net energy” balance …..if you want. Hey, spend less money on your lobbyist! Remember, it’s not rocket science……….it’s building science!