Zero Energy Districts Contribute to Resilience and Energy Independence

By Monica Kanojia, The Hannon Group on Nov 23, 2016

Zero energy design and construction has become a key strategy in working towards energy independence and resilience for American cities. Building to zero energy specifications has emerged in recent years as a viable solution to meet the built environment needs of a growing global population, which is expected to influence the expansion, or reconstruction, of 60% of the world’s building stock. The Department of Energy (DOE) recently launched the Better Buildings Zero Energy Districts Accelerator, in partnership with the National League of Cities, Rocky Mountain Institute, the U.S. Green Building Council and EcoDistricts, to engage and move the building market to adopt and implement zero energy design at the district level.

A Zero Energy District is defined as one in which Zero Energy use is achieved across a collection of multi-purpose building energy systems by leveraging energy efficient building technologies and strategies, as well as the integration of renewable energy sources. The goal of the Accelerator is to support early adopters achieve the successful development of Zero Energy Districts through energy planning and modeling tools and best practice guidance.

Proper building and urban design not only decreases wasteful energy consumption, but also alleviates financial strain on consumers through decreased energy costs, while subsequently increasing community livability. The Zero Energy District approach is unique in that it is not prescriptive – project leaders have the creative power to develop flexible, cost-effective solutions that meet the needs of their respective residents and are mindful of capacity restraints. However, to accelerate the uptake of zero energy strategies on broader scale, city leadership, developers, and master planners require assistance during the early planning stages to address a variety of factors ranging from establishment of well-defined energy performance goals, incentives for proper design, construction, and operation of the built environment within a district, and appropriate application life-cycle evaluation toolsets. The DOE will support Accelerator Partners to ensure that optimal district configurations and layout, building efficiency practices, renewable energy strategies, utility partnerships, and district energy system evaluations are used to best inform the creation of detailed master energy plans and associated business models.

 “Zero Energy Districts, which exemplify the ethos that partnership is the new leadership, are the perfect example of how more collaboration and coordination at the district scale can drive deeper building energy reductions and greater financial savings,” said Dr. Jason Hartke, program manager, U.S. Department of Energy. “We're proud to be working with these Accelerator Partners who are leading the way with this new collaborative model to unite stakeholders, drive new, innovative solutions and ultimately help communities be more livable, prosperous, and secure.”

Representing a diverse group of building types, including low-income housing, industrial manufacturing, and an agricultural learning center, the following Accelerator Partners are committed to implementing a detailed master energy plan, business model within three years:

  • Denver, Colorado—National Western Center project and Sun Valley EcoDistrict
  • Huntington Beach, California—Advanced Energy Communities
  • St. Paul, Minnesota—Ford Twin Cities Assembly plant Redevelopment Project
  • Fresno, California—The Fresno Energy Performance District
  • Buffalo, New York—Western New York Manufacturing ZNE District

Accelerator Partners will have the opportunity to engage with one another to exchange lessons learned and refine best practice approaches, leverage stakeholder knowledge to address market barriers, and document proven solutions to promote replication in other cities.

The Zero Energy Districts Accelerator is a part of a suite of resources offered through the broader Better Buildings Initiative, which encourages collaboration between public and private sector organizations across the country to share and replicate successful strategies with the overarching goal of making commercial, public, industrial, and residential buildings 20 percent more energy efficient over the next decade.