Net Zero Energy Buildings: The New Standard?
Friday, November 7, 2014
Net Zero Energy Buildings: The New Standard?

We live in a time where environmental sustainability is a topic that is at the forefront of real estate development.  Fluctuating energy prices, the desire to decrease the reliance on fossil fuels and an effort to reduce the impact on the environment are some of the factors driving real estate development towards a new industry paradigm; one of responsible, sustainable development.  One of the more intriguing concepts in the area of sustainability is that of the Net Zero Energy (NZE) building.  Essentially, an NZE building is one that, through the use of innovative new technologies such as solar panels, wind turbines and geothermal technology, produces as much, or more, energy than it consumes.

While the concept of a Net Zero Energy building may seem like a far off reality, the fact is that NZE buildings may eventually, albeit slowly, become the standard for which all new construction is based.  In fact, in 2013 Walgreens introduced what is considered to be the nation's first Net Zero Energy retail store in Evanston, Illinois.  Surely, there will be more that follow.

However, as with any new idea, there of course comes along with it a new set of challenges.  One challenge is obviously the cost.  It takes a large upfront investment into newer so called "green" technologies to construct an NZE building.  Undoubtedly, the upfront costs associated with the construction of an NZE building will be greater than that of a "typical" building.  However, these costs can be mitigated by the fact that a true NZE building will have little or no utility costs.  In fact, it is quite possible that an NZE building may even generate excess energy that can then be sold back to a local utility.  Thus, in effect, an NZE building could become a profit center.  Further, like any new technology, the cost of sustainable technology is very likely to decrease as it evolves and is refined, therefore making it more widespread and easier to implement.

In addition to the cost factor, design is another hurdle to overcome, particularly in a retail setting.  Real estate directors and store planners will have to figure out a way to engage new technologies so that they fit with their optimum store design.  For example, to maximize the use of solar panels, the roof may have to be constructed in tiers, as opposed to a typical flat roof.  An area for wind turbines may have to be available.  Geothermal technology must be incorporated into the design.  But, these challenges can, and will, be overcome by forward out of the box thinking.  And, the more these technologies are implemented, the greater the likelihood that they will become the standard in prototypical store designs.

Clearly, pushing the concept of NZE buildings into the forefront of development is a trend that is going to take time.  However, it is one that is only going to gain momentum in the future.  As sustainable technologies become more readily attainable and cost effective, the appeal of constructing self-sustaining buildings will only grow.  Ultimately, the initial hurdles to NZE buildings will be overcome and NZE buildings will become the new standard.  If you don't believe it, just take a trip to Evanston.

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