The demand for net zero energy buildings is increasing because of legislation from various governmental bodies and increasing public support.
Boston passed the Building Emissions Reduction and Disclosure Ordinance (BERDO) with a goal of significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions, encouraging efficient energy and water use and developing investments in a green economy.
An amendment to BERDO gives the city of Boston more authority to set carbon targets for existing buildings that decrease over time, with the goal that all buildings will achieve net zero emissions by 2050. This is the single most impactful initiative to curb Boston’s carbon emissions, because buildings in Boston account for nearly 70% of citywide greenhouse gas emissions. While only 4% of buildings in Boston are covered by the ordinance, which sets emissions targets and reporting requirements for buildings greater than or equal to 20,000 square feet, these buildings account for approximately 60% of the city’s building emissions.
For buildings to reduce their emissions, building owners may choose energy efficiency improvements, such as switching to clean, efficient and electric heating systems, or fossil fuel-free systems, and purchasing clean energy.
While such measures are increasing in large cities, smaller communities are also getting involved. For example, Prairie Village, Kan. (population 23,000) will soon consider committing to a UN-backed campaign designed to getting cities, local governments and other institutions to take “rigorous and immediate action” against climate change.
Specifically, the city is considering a commitment to the UN’s “Cities Race to Zero,” an initiative that encourages cities to reduce their carbon emissions by 50% by 2030. The city is already taking steps in this direction, such as building a LEED platinum-certified public works facility.
If the city does approve the “Race to Zero” initiative, it would be publicly endorsing a pledge to reach net-zero carbon emissions by the 2040s or sooner, and this comes with the task of developing a roadmap to achieve net zero carbon emissions in municipal buildings by 2030.
In addition, the city would commit to developing financial support programs to encourage “building-scale renewables and mandate the use of renewables through building codes.”
Individual facilities are also getting into the act. In 2019, Becker + Becker, an architectural firm, purchased a local landmark hotel in New Haven, Conn., which is also a registered historic place. The firm’s goal is to redo the hotel so that it is net zero, which, according to the firm, would likely be the first of its kind in the United States.
The building will become a 165-room Hilton-branded property called Hotel Marcel. According to Bruce Becker, the firm’s president, the entire premises will run independent of fossil fuels, and will instead be powered by energy generated on-site, primarily from solar panels that cover the hotel rooftop and parking lot.
As Becker sees it, the plan for turning it into a net zero hotel means approaching the project from two angles: reducing overall energy consumption and finding the most efficient ways to source alternative energy. For example, all the lighting will use power over ethernet, which has traditionally been used in buildings for computer and phone systems.
Becker admitted that overhead costs can be higher at the onset of developing net zero buildings, but that costs today are a fraction of what they were in the past, and it can end up being repaid in energy savings within three to four years.