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The Trajectory to Net Zero Energy Buildings through Utility-Enhanced Energy Efficiency

In January 2008 the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) published its ASHRAE Vision 2020: Providing tools by 2020 that enable the building community to produce market-viable NZEBs (Net Zero Energy Buildings) by 2030. While the report focused mainly on those who design, build and operate commercial buildings, ASHRAE did give a nod to utilities and their role in achieving this goal.  The report recognized that individual buildings are part of a larger system, and utilities could contribute by creating policies that encourage the use of new metering systems, storage, and distributed energy resources to reduce base loads. However, utilities can be more actively involved by offering incentive programs that encourage high performance building design and construction, and avoid lost opportunities in the design and construction of new facilities.  But how can utilities encourage participation in whole building incentive programs for new commercial construction and major renovations, and for one- and two-family housing? Here are three steps utilities can take to build partnerships throughout the process, from design to building occupation.

First, create awareness of these programs in the design and construction community.  Increase the visibility of custom whole-building incentives, as well as incentives for design charrettes and adoption of a net zero energy goal early in the design process. An effective way to encourage participation is phased payments incentives based on construction progress, rather than withholding all payment until building occupancy, with appropriate legal safeguards to protect the utility and its ratepayers. This provides ongoing support to the building owner and project team and keeps them focused on their end energy goal. An incentive for building systems commissioning can help ensure the building operates as designed. The same phasing arrangement of design incentives for building energy modeling, commissioning, and commissioning services above normal design services for energy efficient buildings will promote participation in those programs as well.

Second, consider program components that establish the utility as a leader in and resource for sustainable and green building design. These include high performance design assistance for the architects and engineers and special training in strategies such as natural ventilation and advanced lighting controls. These program components should be part of an intense outreach effort directed at the design community.

Finally, utilities should consider using the most stringent building performance standards available as the baseline for commercial whole building and residential programs, where those standards exceed state and local codes. For example, use the latest version of ASHRAE Standard 90.1 as the baseline for the facilities addressed in that standard, where state or local energy code requirements lag behind the latest version. For one- and two-family housing, consider the energy standards in LEED® for Homes or ENERGY STAR®, where those standards exceed local requirements.

DNV GL implements utility new construction programs across the country, with 40 years’ experience with high performance and net zero energy building design.  Our team of architects and engineers has certified more than 200 LEED projects at all levels and 22 net zero energy projects. The team also includes Living Building Challenge auditors.

Kevin Brock is a PE (North Carolina) with the DNV GL Business Services team and supports many new construction projects.  Kevin has a Master of Science in Sustainability Studies from Lenoir-Rhyne University; and is a member of ASHRAE, with certifications as an ASHRAE Building Energy Modeling Professional, and Commissioning Process Management Professional.


ANSI/ASHRAE/IES Standard 90.1-2013, Energy Standard for Buildings Except Low-Rise Residential Buildings.

ASHRAE Vision 2020, February 2008. https://www.ashrae.org/file%20library/doclib/public/20080226_ashraevision2020.pd

Hart, R. (2015). Have We Run Out Of Savings Potential In Standard 90.1? ASHRAE Journal, January 2015.

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