3 Steps To A Zero Energy Commercial Building

net zero energy
Lower-costs technologies will make zero net energy buildings more feasible in the near future.


Remember December 4, 2013, in terms of your commercial building and its potential to achieve zero net energy (ZNE). This is the date that Solar City began offering a 10-year lease for its Tesla-based battery technology to commercial businesses. The lease’s financial attractiveness is its guarantee of a 20 percent reduction in a commercial building’s kilowatt (kW) demand.

In many electric utility rate designs for commercial buildings, the demand charge can account for up to half of the total monthly bill. Solar City’s lease, which guarantees a performance result, allows a business to avoid a significant upfront cash investment while still realizing positive cash flows when the monthly lease payment is lower than the electric bill savings achieved by reducing kW charges.

Offerings like Solar City’s that supply both advanced technologies and guaranteed financial results are the first wave of a ZNE-technology revolution that will reshape your hotel, store, office building or warehouse into a “smart building.” Previous articles in this three-part series reviewed the technologies that enable ZNE buildings and the financial impacts ZNE technologies will have on commercial real-estate valuations and cash flows. This article outlines the three steps for turning your commercial building into a ZNE building.

What Is a ZNE Building?

A ZNE building produces onsite renewable energy equal to the building’s annual energy consumption. Achieving this result is more than putting solar panels on a building’s roof. ZNE buildings are designed using a pyramid approach of progressively investing in least-cost technology options that combine to achieve ZNE results.

The ZNE technology revolution is being driven by market-disrupting price declines in these technologies as they grow their economics of scale. California’s 2014 launch of revised building codes will accelerate this economies-of-scale path toward price competitiveness by creating demand for ZNE technologies similar to how California drove down rooftop solar panel costs through the state’s Million Solar Roof initiative. California’s efforts hold the potential for ZNE building technologies to achieve economies of scale that will make them affordable to commercial businesses across the U.S.

Electric Utilities and ZNE Buildings

Your ability to design a ZNE building will be influenced by your electric utility. Some utilities will align with this technological wave and serve their customers in a manner similar to how Amazon and Google provide Internet “cloud” services. Customers served by these utilities will be able to buy and sell energy through their utility and view the grid and their utility as a valued resource.

Other utilities will create or maintain barriers to their customers’ adoption of ZNE buildings. These utilities do so at the risk of generating a future customer rebellion when the price and operational ability of ZNE buildings are competitive with the grid. Until this crossroads is reached, customers served by these utilities will be limited to investing in energy efficiency and intelligent building technologies that form two of the legs of the ZNE technology stool.



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Bill Roth
Bill Roth is a nationally-recognized business coach that has successfully worked with hundreds of business owners and leaders on proven green best practices that win new customers, grow product revenues and cut costs. He brings to this coaching his past experience as a senior officer leading teams that developed the first hydrogen fueled Prius and the development of utility scale solar power plants. His best selling book The Secret Green Sauce, available on Amazon, profiles actual businesses using best practices in pricing, marketing, cost management and branding to make money and a difference. In 2020 Roth is conducting the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Green Builds Business program, sponsored by Toyota, where he will be providing free coaching to business leaders on how to use today’s exciting new clean technologies to win customers and cut costs.