Net Zero Energy Operation, Where to Begin?

The construction of zero net energy commercial and public buildings is on the rise as companies and organizations are discovering that zero energy buildings can improve their bottom line. Net-zero energy buildings are those that produce at least as much energy as they use on an annual basis, generally through the use of various onsite renewable energy systems such as solar panels and wind turbines. Still, in a small percentage of overall nationwide construction, they are gaining in popularity as a new and innovative construction alternative.

Brad Peace of reminds those thinking about making the move to net zero energy that it’s not just about renewables – at least at first. The obvious challenge with net zero energy is that you have to produce enough energy to achieve net zero, and solar panels, fuel cells, wind turbines, etc., require significant capital to procure. By adding a massive amount of power, even the most inefficient buildings can achieve net zero, but is that really the goal? Is it the right idea to achieve net zero energy by replacing all the energy you use with renewables, without first evaluating how to reduce your energy footprint in the first place? And, who has a ton of money lying around to invest in renewables from the get-go? Not many.

Renewable energy is just one piece of the puzzle.

Before you even pick up that magazine about wind turbines, find and fix your wasted energy.  Just about every building wastes energy in some form or another, and it’s that wasted energy that represents the capital needed to hit net zero. Every watt of energy saved through system controls, occupant behavior changes, and retrofits or upgrades is one less watt that needs to be generated on-site. By front loading energy saving practices, you can accrue the capital you need to purchase and install renewable energy systems, avoiding the additional costs of buying larger renewable energy systems to cover unnecessary energy waste.

Low cost measures take the cake.

The first step in achieving zero net energy may be requesting an energy audit of the building. Generally completed by a utility company, this is an inspection, survey and analysis of energy flows within the building. Audits identify energy inefficiencies that may have gone unnoticed for years and help you reduce utility costs. Audits also help you determine what the best energy conservation measures are for your building allowing you to prioritize and evaluate all possibilities at once.

Implement low- and no-cost measures right now. Every building can tolerate adjustments to HVAC, lighting (such as EarthTronics low cost, high energy saving LED EarthBulbs)  and ventilation schedules so they run only when needed. Changes in setpoints, time of use, occupant preferences, and other simple optimization measures often pay for the audit in the first or second year of the change. (Check out our blog about 5 Ways to Make Businesses More Eco-Friendly for some additional ideas.)

Building occupant behavior impacts energy usage

Consider how occupants are part of the equation:

  • Are you keeping the building cooler/warmer due to a few complaints?
  • Are occupants plugging in equipment they don’t really need?
  • Do occupants understand how their behavior is driving building energy use?

Don’t be afraid to ask these questions take the time to educate your tenants on the best and easiest energy reduction practices they can use right away. says that if you run out of efficiency options, there are clues to know if you have truly identified all of the possible wasted energy in your building. Simply look up your building type within the Commercial Buildings Energy Consumption Survey (CBECS) administered by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). If you are saving at least 50 percent more energy than the average building in your survey, chances are that it’s time to invest in renewables instead of looking for further upgrades.

The steps outlined above will help take you steps closer to that zero net energy goal!


For more information check out:

Net-Zero Building Design Doesn’t Have to Be Difficult


How to Achieve Zero-Energy Buildings


Cost Control Strategies for Zero Energy Buildings  


If you need help working with a quality LED lighting manufacturer that’s able to offer design insights and product mix recommendations for your space, or identify some easy ways to reduce your building’s energy use, reach out to our customer service team, we are here to help!