News Article
March 29, 2014

Net Zero Energy Market Update

Net Zero Energy Market UpdateMomentum in pursuing net zero energy in new buildings is growing in the United States. An increasing number of buildings meet this standard, raising confidence that net zero goals are realistic given current building technologies and design approaches.

In this environment, the New Buildings Institute (NBI) in February 2014 released an update on the latest market trends and government policies: “2014 Getting to Zero Status Update.” The report provides a review of the recent projects, policies and programs driving net zero energy commercial buildings.

According to NBI, the number of buildings that are net zero energy, working toward net zero energy or net zero capable has doubled since 2012. While the total number of buildings is still small (213), the lessons learned are growing rapidly, both in projects and in government policies and programs that are driving net zero energy building market growth.

Key findings of the NBI 2014 report include:

  • Net zero is achievable in all regions and climate zones.  Net zero buildings exist in all eight Department of Energy climate zones and in 36 states.

  • Net zero works for many buildings types and sizes. These include schools, universities and offices, low-rise apartment buildings and emerging laboratory buildings.

  • Net zero energy districts are a growing trend. The report identified 18 net zero energy districts, with the U.S. Army and several universities leading the way.

  • Private-sector net zero energy development is increasing: 16 percent of verified net zero energy and net zero energy emerging buildings were privately developed.

  • Net zero energy is achievable in existing buildings through major renovation: 24 percent of verified net zero energy buildings in the report were renovation projects.

  • A large share of net zero building projects are education buildings. K-12 schools and universities make up one-third of all net zero energy buildings.

The NBI report also found that net zero energy can be achieved within the cost range of other buildings of the same type. When total construction costs for these buildings are analyzed against control groups, net zero energy buildings are comparable to conventional buildings. This holds true beyond the Sun Belt: The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), with consultant Energy & Resource Solutions (ERS)[1], examined the costs of dozens of high-performance construction projects in New York state and in similar climates and found that the average price of these buildings was slightly lower than standard construction cost estimates for buildings in the same locale.

Although their cost is lower and markets for them are growing, net zero buildings are not taking off as fast as might be expected. The design process is different and results in buildings that are different in function, aesthetics and comfort. Different does not mean worse, but it does mean change. People, particularly those investing millions of dollars, tend to shy away from experimentation. As comfort grows with new design features, net zero energy buildings are poised to grow in popularity.

In addition to analyzing market trends, the NBI report looked at the government policies that best promote net zero energy buildings and districts. The most helpful policies include:

  • A building energy codes roadmap that signals to the marketplace that it should trend toward net zero energy over time.

  • Annual benchmarking and disclosure policies that set a foundation for both building owners and policy makers to make improvements to building efficiency.

  • Net metering and rate policies that acknowledge the changing role of utilities

  • Incentives and technical support programs by utilities or program administrators.

  • Local government leadership in public buildings.

  • Support for community-scale renewable energy projects.

Meanwhile, the value of net zero buildings beyond construction and energy costs is increasingly acknowledged. The advantages of net zero buildings are clear. See the Institute for Building Efficiency fact sheet on “Assessing the Value of Green Buildings” for more details.

The Institute also offers five issue briefs on net zero energy buildings:

March 2014


[1] “Market and opportunity assessment of deep savings projects and net zero energy buildings.” NYSERDA and ERS-Inc. Fall 2012.