What is Zero Energy Design?

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  • Written By: Jessica Ellis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 17 July 2019
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Zero energy design is a type of building architecture that allows the energy created by the building to match the energy used by the building, thus having a net zero impact on energy usage. By using renewable energy sources such as solar, thermal, and wind power, zero energy design reduces the dependency on fossil fuels, thus lowering pollution and slowing the greenhouse effect. As a technology, zero energy design remains in its infancy, but widespread concern over global warming and sustainable living practices has made this design principle one to be closely watched in the future.

Almost all functional buildings require energy to run: gas and electricity run lights, power appliances, and heat water. In most developed regions, a majority of buildings are connected to off site power sources that produce energy through fossil fuel use; this is known as being “on the grid.” Fossil fuels are a finite resource, one quickly running low throughout the world as a result of vast levels of consumption. Renewable energy, such as sunlight, can theoretically be used forever, having no detrimental effect on sunlight resources or availability. In zero energy design, one of the largest components involves switching buildings from off site fossil fuel burning to on site renewable energy using.


A major concern in the creation of zero energy design buildings is the problem of climate control. Humans generally want the climate indoors to remain comfortable regardless of the weather outdoors. To this reason, energy-eating heaters and air conditioners are installed to help adjust inside temperatures to desirable levels. One priority of zero energy design is making houses and building efficient enough to reduce the reliance on auxiliary heating and cooling units. This may include double-paned windows or heavy insulation, as well as energy-efficient heaters and air conditioners that can be run using renewable power.

There is some controversy over how wide the definition of zero energy design should span. In some areas, the term is applied to buildings that produce as much energy as the building uses to run. Others suggest that a building should only be considered zero energy if it produces more than it uses, as some energy is lost in the transfer of electricity, or that it should include compensation for the carbon emissions caused by the building.

The future of zero energy design is still uncertain; as fossil fuel resources drain, people may be forced to rely more and more on renewable sources such as those used in zero energy buildings. Zero energy design firms do seem to be springing up throughout the developed and undeveloped world, promising cheap, efficient buildings that reduce energy costs, provide more efficient buildings, and reduce the carbon footprint of users. According to many environmental experts, this type of design may be vital to adopting a sustainable strategy for humans on Earth.



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