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Net Zero Buildings: A New Type of Independence

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If there’s a defining focus for the building sector in 2019, it’s Net Zero Energy Buildings—buildings that produce as much energy as they use over the course of a year.

The National Institute of Building Science reports that advances in construction technologies, renewable energy systems, and continued research has resulted in Net Zero Energy Buildings (NZEB) becoming more and more appealing.

The design of NZEBs starts with a site evaluation in order to make most use of the surrounding natural resources. The evaluation considers such issues as sunlight and solar heat, prevailing breezes, and the temperature of the earth. Thus, it aims to optimise energy solutions.

Examples of features used in NZEB include photovoltaic solar panels, high-performance curtainwalls, earth-coupled heating and cooling systems, automated natural ventilation systems, and daylight harvesting. Including green roof terraces to help reduce rainwater, high-efficiency appliances, and Smart Energy Management Systems can also be beneficial. The latter offer sophisticated technology which optimises energy use with timers and algorithms.

The system can adjust each room’s temperature using sensors to determine whether they are occupied. It can also adjust internal shades or external louvres to optimise temperature and lighting and adjust the level of artificial lighting based on the amount of natural lighting available. To limit the use of electricity, skylights or solar tubes can provide daytime lighting while fluorescent and LED lighting can be used at night.

Sophisticated building simulation software is used to model how a building will perform. These simulations help the designers predict how the building will perform.

While NZEB is certainly expanding, only a handful of highly efficient buildings that meet the criteria exist.

In Sydney’s North Shore, construction is due to commence shortly on a set of terrace houses called The Nines. The complex will embrace intelligent solar battery power systems and reward the lucky owners with zero energy bills. Although this emerging technology is being installed across a large number of freestanding homes, this complex of nine terraces will be an Australian first.

Phill Leahy, the developer,  told Domain, “We decided to put them into our terraces (The Nines) as they all have a roof and space for solar panels, and often the demographic who buy them are downsizers giving up their large family homes who also want to downscale their costs.”

Australia’s largest solar and battery installer, Natural Solar has been contracted to install the battery systems at The Nines. According to Chris Williams, chief executive and founder of Natural Solar, “These are the first terraces, and they represent a different segment of the market.”

He said, “As well as the cost savings, people are very conscious now of the efforts to help the environment and when they’re offered these kinds of options, it becomes a real feel-good decision.”

This luxury terrace block will bring world-class technology to each home. They will use a 3.6kWp solar system featuring 360w 20 per cent efficiency panels which will generate power from the sun, along with a 7.5kWh sonnen battery to store the power produced.

The capabilities of these batteries are impressive and extend beyond reducing bills. Each system is able to integrate with home automation devices, such as Amazon Alexa and Google Home, using Z-wave technology. Each battery is intelligent and can understand and react to factors like external temperature, time of day, and appliance use.

The developer, Metro Property, is working with A+ Design Group on The Nines project and expects construction to be completed in June 2020.

As Australia faces more extreme weather conditions and record-breaking heatwaves, the Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council (ASBEC), ClimateWorks Australia and the Energy Efficiency Council have welcomed support for a Trajectory for Low Energy Buildings. The ‘Trajectory’ suggests a pathway towards zero energy building. It increases the energy efficiency provisions in the National Construction Code.

This report assesses the feasibility for the non-residential building sector as a whole to achieve net- zero energy by 2050, as well as for individual building forms.

Approaching new developments or renovations, with the goal of attaining a net-zero energy result, calls for a combination of design strategies, products, and materials. NZEB also requires entire building teams to be open to the possibilities and embrace the wide spectrum of available technologies. Teams will need to take calculated risks by investing in innovative products and systems that appear on the market and may not have established a reputation as yet.

If you liked this article, here are a few eBooks and webinars that you may enjoy:

The Future of Green Building

Is Green Building Worth It?

Where is Green Building Headed?

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