Support The World's Smartest Network

Help the New York Academy of Sciences bring late-breaking scientific information about the COVID-19 pandemic to global audiences. Please make a tax-deductible gift today.

This site uses cookies.
Learn more.


This website uses cookies. Some of the cookies we use are essential for parts of the website to operate while others offer you a better browsing experience. You give us your permission to use cookies, by continuing to use our website after you have received the cookie notification. To find out more about cookies on this website and how to change your cookie settings, see our Privacy policy and Terms of Use.

We encourage you to learn more about cookies on our site in our Privacy policy and Terms of Use.


Zero Net Energy Buildings: Reality or Fiction?

Zero Net Energy Buildings
Reported by
Don Monroe

Posted August 20, 2009


U.S. energy consumption in buildings outpaces usage in transportation and by industry. Reducing energy consumption by buildings, or replacing it with non-emitting, renewably generated energy, has therefore been identified as a critical step in managing climate change. "Zero net energy buildings" are one proposed approach to the problem. The strategy entails pushing the tradeoffs between energy efficiency and renewable energy generation to the level of individual buildings, where it can be evaluated during design, construction, and operation. Since some energy use cannot be eliminated, these designs use local generation, often by photovoltaics, to bring the net energy usage to zero.

To help build consensus on how to evaluate and promote low- and zero-energy construction, the Academy's Green Buildings Discussion Group presented a four-part series on zero net energy building, including case studies, a review of global efforts, and a discussion of the role financial incentives and valuations.

Use the tabs above to find a meeting report and multimedia on these events.

Speakers include:

Clark Brockman (SERA Architects, Inc.)
Paul Torcellini (National Renewable Energy Laboratory)
Paul Schwer (PAE Consulting Engineers)
Roger Frechette (Skidmore, Owings & Merrill)
Luke McKneally (Solar Design Associates)
Edward H. Brzezowski (Noveda Technologies)
William Sisson (United Technologies Corporation)
Guy Battle (dcarbon8)
Scott Muldavin (The Muldavin Company)
Ron Dembo (Zerofootprint Inc.)


Thank you to our sponsor for their support of this series.

Web Sites

Adam Joseph Lewis Center for Environmental Studies
This Web site details the sustainable features of the Lewis Center for Environmental Studies at Oberlin College in Oberlin, OH.

Architecture 2030
Sponsor of the 2030 Challenge, an initiative to encourage the global architecture community to reduce greenhouse gas emissions of the Building Sector through better design of buildings and communities.

BREEAM, the Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method, is the U.K. standard that is similar to LEED in the United States.

Cascadia Region Green Building Council
A chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council working in Oregon, Washington, British Columbia, and Alaska to promote green building practice in the region. It is home of the Living Building Challenge.

Digital Media City
The Landmark Tower design for Digital Media City, Seoul, South Korea.

DOE Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy
See this page at the U.S. Department of Energy for information about how zero energy buildings are defined, along with other resources. They also host a database of low-impact buildings.

The Energy Performance of Buildings Directive
The Energy Performance of Buildings Directive is a framework adopted by the European Union in 2002 that requires evaluation of the energy usage of all new buildings.

The Merton Rule
Web site for the Merton rule, a requirement that new buildings get at least 10% of their energy from renewable sources, which has been universally adopted in the United Kingdom.

The Natural Step
An international not-for-profit organization dedicated to education, advisory work and research in sustainable development.

New Jersey's Solar Renewable Energy Certificate Program
New Jersey's Solar Renewable Energy Certificate program, which helps the 31 Tannery project to profit from its excess energy production.

Noveda Technologies
This Web site discusses Noveda's showcase 31 Tannery project in Branchburg, NJ, and their energy-monitoring systems, including the following (follow links on each page to see current conditions at 31 Tannery):
      FaciliMetrix™ system for monitoring building performance
      SunFlow Monitor™ of solar photovoltaic operation
      EnergyFlow Monitor™ for renewable energy systems
      Carbon Footprint Monitor™

Pearl River Tower
Design for Pearl River Tower, Guangzhou, China.

Sustainable Building — Tin Mountain
Design for Tin Mountain Conservation Center, Albany, NH.

Planning Policy Statement 1: Delivering Sustainable Development
Planning Policy Statement 1, issued in the U.K. in 2005.

United States Green Building Council
Home of the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System.

The World Business Council for Sustainable Development
The World Business Council for Sustainable Development is a coalition of companies working together to build a more sustainable future.

The ZEROprize
This Web site describes the $1 million Z-prize for demonstrating new concepts in building re-skinning.

Green Building Finance Consortium
The Green Building Finance Consortium site includes resources for evaluating sustainable buildings. Its searchable Research Library and Industry Resources sections provide access to thousands of key documents relating sustainable property investment and financial performance.


Battle G. 2006. Carbon is the New Gold. In Fusaro PC, James T, eds. Green Trading™: Commercial Opportunities for the Environment. John Wiley and Sons, West Sussex, UK.

Battle G. 2008. Sustainable Cities. In Burdett R, Sudjic D, eds. The Endless City. Phaidon Press, Inc., London, UK.

Battle G. 2003. The Air We Breathe. In Gissen D, ed. Big and Green: Toward Sustainable Architecture in the 21st Century. Princeton Architectural Press, Princeton, NJ.

Battle G, McCarthy C. 2001. Sustainable Ecosystems: and the Built Environment. John Wiley and Sons, West Sussex, UK.

Battle G, McCarthy C. 1999. Visionen—Die Fassade der Zukunft. In Danner D, Dassler FH, Krause JR, eds., Die klima-aktive Fassade, A. Koch, Stuttgart.

The Appraisal of Real Estate, The Appraisal Institute, Chicago.

Journal Articles

Griffiths B, Long P, Torcellini P, et al. 2007. Assessment of the technical potential for achieving net zero energy buildings in the commercial sector. National Renewable Energy Laboratory (December; PDF, 1.69 MB).

Miller N, Spivey J, Florance A. 2008. Does Green Pay Off? Journal of Real Estate Portfolio Management, 14. (PDF, 204 KB)

Fuerst F, McAllister PM. 2008. Green Noise or Green Value? Measuring the Price Effects of Environmental Certification in Commercial Buildings. (July 15).

Eichholtz P, Kok N, Quigley JM. 2008. Doing Well by Doing Good? Green Office Buildings. (April 1). Berkeley Program on Housing and Urban Policy. Working Papers: Paper W08-001. (PDF, 1.37 MB)

Kesik T, Miller A. 2008. Toronto Green Development Standard Cost-Benefit Study. City of Toronto, the Ontario Centres of Excellence, Federation of Canadian Municipalities.

Petersen J. 2005. Proceedings, Greening The Campus VI. Ball State University, Muncie, Indiana.

Petersen, J.E. 2007. Production and consumption of electricity in Oberlin College's Lewis Center for Environmental Studies: Realizing the goal of a net zero building. In Campbell-Howe R, ed. Solar 2007, American Solar Energy Society, Cleveland, OH.

Torcellini P, Pless S, Deru M, et al. 2006. Lessons learned from case studies of high-performance buildings. National Renewable Energy Laboratory. (June; PDF, 3.78 MB)


Definitions and Metrics

Paul Torcellini, PhD

National Renewable Energy Laboratory
e-mail | web site

Paul A. Torcellini is section supervisor for commercial buildings research at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, a U.S. Department of Energy National Laboratory. He has a Master's and PhD in mechanical engineering from Purdue University. Paul is on the adjunct faculty at Colorado School of Mines.

Torcellini is a member of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America (IESNA), and the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE).

Paul Schwer, PE, LEED AP

PAE Consulting Engineers
e-mail | web site

Paul Schwer is president of PAE Consulting Engineers in Portland, Oregon. PAE is a mechanical/electrical design firm that specializes in integrated sustainable design for buildings. He holds a BS in Mechanical Engineering from Bucknell University, and is a registered Professional Engineer in four states. Over the last 20 years, Paul has designed mechanical systems for a number of public and private buildings both nationally and internationally.

Schwer spent two years as an adjunct faculty member of New York University and is currently an adjunct faculty member of the University Of Oregon Department Of Architecture. He is a LEED Accredited Professional currently working on over two dozen projects pursuing USGBC LEED certification. Several of these projects are pursuing LEED Platinum ratings. Paul is also actively involved with The Natural Step (TNS).

Clark Brockman

SERA Architects, Inc.
e-mail | web site

Clark Brockman is director of SERA Architects' sustainability resource team. He is the chair of the Cascadia Region Green Building Council board of directors and serves on the Oregon Natural Step's advisory board. He has served in a green building advisory capacity to Portland's Office of Sustainable Development and Sustainable Development Commission, City Commissioner Dan Saltzman, the Portland Development Commission, Multnomah County, Clackamas County, the Oregon Business Council, the Governor of Oregon, and Oregon Congressman David Wu's office. He is also a frequent lecturer and panel participant on sustainable design, green building policy change, and the impact of the built environment on climate change.

Brockman completed a Bachelor of Environmental Design at the University of Colorado, and is a registered architect in Colorado and Washington.

Case Studies

Roger E. Frechette, III, PE, LEED AP

Skidmore, Owings & Merrill
e-mail | web site

Roger Frechette is the director in charge of Building Services and Sustainable Engineering for the design firm of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP. He is a registered professional and mechanical engineer with over 20 years of experience. Frechette is currently leading the engineering team for Burj Dubai, which is planned as the world's tallest building and man-made structure, as well as the "low-energy," high-performance concept Pearl River Tower under construction in Guangzhou, China. His work also includes a diverse group of projects, ranging from laboratories, airports, hospitals, academic buildings and corporate offices to government buildings and museums.

In 2002, Frechette coauthored a document known as the Nantucket Principals, which focuses on the trends and issues that will influence green building and sustainable design in the future. In 2004, Frechette received United States Congressional recognition for his work in building sustainability.

Luke McKneally, AIA, LEED AP

Solar Design Associates
e-mail | web site

Luke McKneally is a registered architect at Solar Design Associates, Inc. with 15 years of diverse design experience. A U.S. Green Building Council LEED accredited design professional, he specializes in energy-efficient, environmentally responsive design and the use of renewable energy in buildings. He is involved in all aspects of the firm's practice including client relations, architectural programming, design and production, project management and LEED certification.

During his first decade of practice, Luke became increasingly involved in sustainability and environmental issues and took a sabbatical to expand his knowledge of living systems. He earned his MS in biology from Harvard, performing his graduate research at the Organismic and Evolutionary Biology Laboratories while also providing weekly presentations at Boston's Museum of Science to broaden public understanding and appreciation of science.

Luke has returned to architecture with the goal to significantly improve environmental stewardship, and is currently focused on Solar Design Associates' "Beyond LEED" program to create ultra-efficient buildings powered by integrated renewable energy systems to achieve carbon neutrality, and require little to no fossil fuels. He has recently contributed to Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick's "Zero Net Energy Building" Task Force to provide recommendations and guidelines for future Massachusetts state building projects.

Edward H. Brzezowski, PE, LEED AP

Noveda Technologies
e-mail | web site

Edward Brzezowski is a nationally recognized professional mechanical engineer with 30 years of experience. He is currently the director of engineering for the Ferreira Group and president and founder of Noveda Technologies in Branchburg, NJ, where he engineered the first Net Zero Electric Commercial Building in the United States. He is the lead commissioning authority engineer on the new World Trade Center Transportation Hub project in New York City.

Brzezowski has been the recipient of various state and national awards, including the National Award for Energy Innovation from the U.S. Department of Energy, the National Award for Contract Engineering and the National Award for Demand Side Management from Energy User News, Power Sources Manufactures Association Education Award, and the Big "E" Energy Award.

Brzezowski is a graduate of the New Jersey Institute of Technology and holds professional engineering licenses in New York and New Jersey. He is also a LEED® accredited professional, a New Jersey Department of Energy technical analyst, and a member of the American Society for Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) and Building Commissioning Association (BCxA).

Report from the World Business Council for Sustainable Development

William Sisson

United Technologies Corporation

William Sisson is presently the director of sustainability and since 2006 the co-chair for United Technologies Corporation in the World Business Council for Sustainable Development Energy Efficiency in Buildings Project. Since 1985, he has worked for UTC in a variety of technical and business leadership positions. Most recently, he was director of Carrier R&D Programs, at UTC's central corporate research center, where he was responsible for Carrier's longer range innovation portfolio, with emphasis on energy and environment.

Sisson is an MIT Sloan Fellow since 1999, where he developed a thesis entitled "Fueling Innovation and Growth Strategies using Corporate Venturing". He completed his undergraduate studies at Virginia Tech in Engineering Science and Mechanics, received his MS in Mechanical Engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and was awarded an MBA from the Sloan School at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Guy Battle

e-mail | web site

Guy Battle is an environmental consulting engineer. He is passionate the design and delivery of sustainable solutions within the built environment and is one of the founding partners of consulting engineers BattleMcCarthy.  More recently Battle founded a new carbon management group, dcarbon8 which specializes in the delivery of low carbon solutions for business and buildings.

Battle has worked with many of the world's most renowned architects including Fosters, Richard Rogers, and Frank Gehry. Battle has worked on a number of buildings within the U.S. including the Freedom Tower with SOM, Hudson Yards Masterplan (Cooper Roberston), and the Federal Courthouse, Los Angeles.

Battle is a member of the World Economic Forum where he is part of the Sustainable Buildings Group and has contributed to a number of publications including Sustainable eco-Systems and The Endless City. He also lectures widely having been a visiting professor at IIT, Chicago and a master speaker at the USGBC Annual conference on two occasions.

Financial Incentives and Valuation

Scott Muldavin, CRE, FRICS

The Muldavin Company
e-mail | web site

Scott Muldavin is executive director of the Green Building Finance Consortium, a group he formed in 2006 to enable an assessment of sustainable property investment from a fiduciary/financial perspective. The Consortium is supported by the real estate industry independent of green building product or trade groups. Trade group members and collaborators include the Mortgage Bankers Association, BOMA International, the Pension Real Estate Association, the Urban Land Institute, the National Association of Realtors, the Appraisal Institute, the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, and CoreNet Global. Muldavin has been an advisor for over 25 years to many of the nation's leading real estate companies including CalPERS, UBS, RREEF, and Bank of America. Muldavin has led the Muldavin Company for 10 years, been a lead real estate partner at Deloitte & Touché, co-founded the $4+ billion Guggenheim Real Estate investment fund, and served on the Advisory Board of Global Real Analytics, an advisor on nearly $2 billion of REIT and CMBS funds. Muldavin is a counselor of real estate, a fellow of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, and author of over 200 articles on real estate finance, investment, valuation, and sustainability.

Ron Dembo, PhD

Zerofootprint Inc.
web site

Ron Dembo is the founder & CEO of Zerofootprint. Recently nominated for a "Crunchie Award" as most likely to change the world and named "Toronto's Best Green Organization" by blogTO, Zerofootprint's goal is to mobilize and empower large groups of individuals and organizations worldwide to reduce their collective carbon and ecological footprint. Targeting businesses, cities, communities, and schools, Zerofootprint's software helps clients measure and manage their environmental impact and can be accessed easily through the web. Prior to that, Dembo was the founder, CEO, and president of Algorithmics Incorporated. He had a distinguished 10 year academic career at Yale University, authored 3 books, published over 60 technical papers on finance and mathematical optimization, and holds a number of patents in computational finance. A sought-after speaker, he was one of the few individuals to present at the David Suzuki's Foundation Conference last year.

Don Monroe

Don Monroe is a science writer based in Murray Hill, New Jersey. After getting a PhD in physics from MIT, he spent more than fifteen years doing research in physics and electronics technology at Bell Labs. He writes on physics, technology, and biology.


Thank you to our sponsor for their support of this series.