Green Building News

Green Building News February 1, 2010

National User Facility for Net-Zero Energy Buildings

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory will build and operate a new National User Facility for Net-Zero Energy Buildings using a competitively selected award of $15.9 million in stimulus funds from the U.S. Department of Energy.

This facility will contain a set of test beds for building systems integration designed to address key technical challenges for net-zero energy buildings. The Department of Energy solicited research applications from eligible national laboratories nationwide, which then underwent a thorough technical review process.

Buildings account for more than 40 percent of carbon emissions in the United States. Net-zero energy buildings (N-ZEB) generate as much energy as they use on an annual basis through highly aggressive energy efficiency and on-site renewable energy generation, making them a key pathway to address and reduce these climate-altering emissions. The new laboratory facilities will help researchers develop, test and validate the technologies, systems and design approaches that will allow N-ZEB to be built and operated at an affordable cost.

“This facility will serve a national audience—and need—in an aggressive pursuit of DOE’s energy efficiency goals for widespread implementation of affordable net-zero energy buildings by 2030, “ says Stephen Selkowitz, head of the Building Technologies Department of Berkeley Lab’s Environmental Energy Technologies Division.

Berkeley Lab researchers will work with a broad base of users in the building design and construction communities, as well as manufacturers, building owners and operators and the academic community.

In proposing for the N-ZEB award, Berkeley Lab teamed with numerous organizations, including 21 industry partners, three utilities, eight universities, a non-profit and three public agencies, all of whom indicated their support and interest in using the facility. Major partners include the University of California, Berkeley, MIT, Carnegie Mellon, HOK, Flack + Kurtz, Philips Research, Johnson Controls, Lutron, Siemens, the California Energy Commission and the U.S. General Services Administration.

Several Testbeds Planned

The new N-ZEB facility will consist of a series of unique energy-efficient building systems testbeds to be located in new and existing buildings on the Lab. Researchers will be able to change out prototype building systems such as windows, lights, heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC), energy control systems, roofs and skylights. The basic idea is to conduct initial measurements of energy use and environmental conditions to understand how the systems perform, and then to redesign and optimize their capabilities and performance.

The building systems integration testbed will consist of several large side-by-side research areas. Each area can employ a range of diverse and changeable HVAC systems, lighting, on-site power and process-load solutions, as well as the building’s “envelope” of windows, walls, floors and related fixtures, for real time performance comparisons under dynamic climate conditions.

Other separate testbeds will be constructed for specific buildings subsystems such as lighting systems and controls, and window and façade systems. One testbed will be devoted to the topic of advanced sensor networks and building energy controls, and the communications protocols that link optimized building performance to smart grid initiatives. Final details of the new facilities will be worked out with Department of Energy staff to meet cost targets and schedule deadlines.

Hardware and Software R&D To Be Conducted

The N-ZEB User Facility will be used by scientists to combine a new generation of innovative building materials with components to create high-performance HVAC, controls, lighting, windows and building envelope sub-systems and systems, as well as on-site power systems.

The research teams then will work to integrate these separate building systems into N-ZEB optimized whole-building solutions with the goal of achieving very aggressive energy, demand, carbon and operating cost savings, as well as improved occupant comfort and health. Measured results from physical testing will be enhanced and extended with the use of powerful building simulation tools.

“The User Facility will help building industry component and system suppliers to create cost-effective, integrated building systems that deliver the performance required by net-zero energy buildings,” says Mary Ann Piette, deputy head of the Building Technologies Department. “For the owner-designer-specifier community, it will demonstrate and verify that these systems deliver the required energy performance.”


$4 Billion to Accelerate Green Affordable Housing

Enterprise Community Partners, Inc., a real estate investment services company for affordable housing and community development, announced in October a $4 billion commitment to launch the next generation of its Green Communities initiative. As a cornerstone to the announcement, the organization also released a study showing the overall return on investment and cost effectiveness of meeting the Enterprise Green Communities Criteria when building affordable housing.

Enterprise hopes this commitment of funds will accelerate change in the affordable housing industry and create significant positive impact in the lives of low-income individuals and families across the country. The group issued a national call to action to green all affordable housing within a decade.

The study, Incremental Cost, Measurable Savings: Enterprise Green Communities Criteria, shows the cost effectiveness of meeting a comprehensive green building framework for affordable housing. Enterprise estimates lifetime savings exceeding the initial investment made to incorporate the Criteria into affordable housing. Green affordable homes offer significant health, economic and environmental benefits to residents by addressing energy efficiency, water conservation, use of healthy materials, high-quality indoor air and location of affordable housing. Integrating the required green measures from the Criteria also can produce substantial increases in the quality of life of residents living in the housing.

Activities related to the next generation of Enterprise Green Communities are underway. Enterprise says its efforts will result directly in the creation, preservation or retrofit of 75,000 green homes and community and commercial buildings within the next five years. The group will lend in key markets to existing multifamily building owners for energy and water reduction capital purchases and healthy living environment improvements.

In May, Enterprise committed its $95 million New Markets Tax Credit (NMTC) allocation to target green deals, which bolster funding for commercial and mixed-use developments with a demonstrable community impact. Enterprise also is purchasing carbon offsets from green affordable housing developers by raising charitable contributions through its Green Communities Offset Fund.


Top Ten Green Building Trends for 2010 Identified by Earth Advantage Institute

Earth Advantage Institute, a leading nonprofit green building resource that has certified more than 11,000 sustainable homes, recently announced its selections for top ten green building trends to watch in 2010.

The trends, which range from energy "scores" for homes to web-based displays that track energy usage in real time, were identified by Earth Advantage Institute based on discussions and transactions with a range of audiences over the latter part of 2009, including builders, architects, real estate brokers, appraisers, lenders and homeowners.

"While we know the building industry had a rough year in 2009, not all of the industry has been in the doldrums," said Sean Penrith, executive director, Earth Advantage Institute. "Green building has been a bright spot in an otherwise lackluster year, and Northwest design and building communities have been at the forefront." The appeal of sustainable housing is highlighted in the 2009 McGraw Hill Construction report on the Green Home Consumer, which shows that green homes are generally secure from price erosion.

The smart grid and connected home.

While utilities will continue to make upgrades to the grid for more effective generation, storage and distribution of power, the big news is in the home. The development of custom and web-based display panels that show real-time home energy use, and even real-time energy use broken out by individual appliance, will go a long way towards helping change homeowners' energy behavior and drive energy conservation.

Energy labeling for homes and office buildings.

The advent of more accurate energy rating systems for homes and office spaces - similar to the miles-per-gallon sticker on your car - has caught the attention of energy agencies and legislators around the country. Not only can it make a building-to-building or home-to-home comparison easier, but a publicly available score on the multiple listing service could galvanize owners to make needed energy improvements while adding value to their building.

Building information modeling (BIM) software.

The continued evolution of CAD software for building design has produced new add-on tools with increasingly accurate algorithms for energy modeling as well as embedded energy properties for many materials and features. This will prove instrumental in predicting building performance. BIM developers will soon be offering more affordable packages aimed at smaller firms and individual builders.

Financial community buy-in to green building.

Lenders and insurers have come to see green homes and buildings as better for their bottom line and are working to get new reduced-rate loan products, insurance packages and metrics into place. Lenders and insurers are realizing green home and building owners are more responsible, place higher value on maintenance and lower operating costs, and are less likely to default.

"Rightsizing" of homes.

A larger home no longer translates into greater equity. Given that the forecast for home valuation remains conservative, that energy prices are expected to rise over time, and the Federal Reserve is expected to raise interest rates mid-year, homeowners will likely feel more comfortable building smaller homes and smaller add-ons.


Portland, Oregon is already on the bandwagon with this one, encouraging the creation of greener communities where residents have access to most services and supplies within walking or biking distance. The creation of walkable, low-impact communities in the suburban setting is also gaining steam.

Water conservation.

Because indoor and outdoor residential water use accounts for more than half of the publicly supplied water in the United States, the EPA finalized the voluntary WaterSense specification for new homes in December of 2009, which reduces water use by about 20 percent compared to a conventional new home. Water will be the essential resource in the next decade.

Carbon Calculation.

With buildings contributing roughly half the carbon emissions in the environment, the progressive elements in the building industry are looking at ways to document, measure and reduce greenhouse gas creation in building materials and processes. This effort will be heightened once a federal cap-and-trade mechanism is launched in this country.

Net Zero Buildings.

A net zero building is a building that generates more energy than it uses over the course of a year, as a result of relatively small size, extreme efficiencies and onsite renewable energy sources. While the Architecture 2030 Challenge sets forth net zero as the goal for all new buildings by 2030, we are already within striking distance on energy efficiency know-how.

Sustainable building education.

The continued demand for greener buildings, especially in progressive cities, will supply new learning opportunities, not just for designers and builders but for the entire chain of professionals involved in the building industry, from real estate to finance and insurance.


20 Percent Wind Power Possible by 2024

In January, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) released the Eastern Wind Integration and Transmission Study (EWITS). This unprecedented two-and-a-half year technical study of future high-penetration wind scenarios was designed to analyze the economic, operational and technical implications of shifting 20 percent or more of the Eastern Interconnection’s electrical load to wind energy by the year 2024.

“Twenty percent wind is an ambitious goal, but this study shows that there are multiple scenarios through which it can be achieved,” said David Corbus, NREL project manager for the study. “Whether we’re talking about using land-based wind in the Midwest, offshore wind in the East or any combination of wind power resources, any plausible scenario requires transmission infrastructure upgrades and we need to start planning for that immediately.”

The study identified operational best practices and analyzed wind resources, future wind deployment scenarios and transmission options. Among its key findings are:

  • The integration of 20 percent wind energy is technically feasible, but will require significant expansion of the transmission infrastructure and system operational changes in order for it to be realized;
  • Without transmission enhancements, substantial curtailment of wind generation would be required for all 20 percent wind scenarios studied;
  • The relative cost of aggressively expanding the existing transmission grid represents only a small portion of the total annualized costs in any of the scenarios studied;
  • Drawing wind energy from a larger geographic area makes it both less expensive and a more reliable energy source – increasing the geographic diversity of wind power projects in a given operating pool makes the aggregated wind power output more predictable and less variable;
  • Wind energy development is a highly cost-effective way to reduce carbon emissions – as more wind energy comes online, less energy from fossil-fuel burning plants is required, reducing greenhouse gas emissions;
  • Carbon emissions are reduced by similar amounts in all scenarios, indicating that transmission helps to optimize the electrical system and does not result in coal power being shipped from the Midwest to New England States;
  • Reduced fossil fuel expenditures more than pay for the increased costs of additional transmission in all high wind scenarios.

“To put the scale of this study in perspective, consider that just over 70 percent of the U.S. population gets its power from the Eastern Interconnect. Incorporating high amounts of wind power in the Eastern grid goes a long way towards clean power for the whole country,” said Corbus. “We can bring more wind power online, but if we don’t have the proper infrastructure to move that power around, it’s like buying a hybrid car and leaving it in the garage.”


Better Buildings: Better Business Conference - Mar. 3-5

Held in Wisconsin Dells, WI, this conference brings leaders of the residential building community together for three days of sessions and networking. More than 60 workshops and 70 speakers from across North America will address challenges and solutions for the home building and remodeling industry. This year's theme is Green Tools and unites technical strategies for building and remodeling homes to be energy efficient with business strategies for growing your business.

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Built Green Conference & Expo - Mar. 12

Held in Bellevue, WA, the Built Green Conference is an annual event for building industry professionals: builders, architects, designers, vendors, consultants, engineers, realtors, government agencies and students. The primary focus of the conference is to educate the local and regional building industry on quality green building practices, products and projects, as well as inspiring groups to continue to strive to build more sustainable communities.

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GLOBE 2010 - Mar. 24-26

One of the largest and longest-running events dedicated to the business of the environment. Held in Vancouver, professionals from more than 70 countries come together to explore the mutually inclusive goals of: corporate sustainability, climate change, carbon management, clean energy, sustainable finance and greener cities. Subthemes for GLOBE 2010 include: clean technology, water, a spotlight on retail and Auto FutureTech.

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Energy Performance Score: The time has come.

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