Residential Net-Zero 2020

by rhoda on April 10, 2012

This is Part 2 of a story about the information and inspiration gathered from a presentation on big data management in the energy sector at NASA Ames Research Center, sponsored by my alma mater, Carnegie Mellon University on April 5, 2012. One of the many issues facing data collection on the smart grid is customer privacy, another story in the making I’m sure. Part 1 focused on the NASA Sustainability Base, a state-of-the-art office building built to LEED Platinum standards.

While many of the technologies used at the NASA Sustainability Base are not practical for home use, it certainly made me wonder about what would be feasible in the residential sphere and what I might do differently if I were to remodel my home. The first thing I did when I got home from the presentation was turn the heat down (we learned about half of energy bills come from HVAC and 30% of HVAC systems are not operating properly). Below is an image of a radiant wall heater (most of the radiant heat systems we install are under the floor) from one of our greenest home improvement projects, a green home remodeling project in Palo Alto that was featured in Palo Alto Home + Garden and Gren Build and Design magazine.

energy-efficient heating

Remarkably, the energy usage per capita in the State of California has remained relatively flat since the mid-seventies. I found this surprising because there are so many more things that we can plug in these days. Factors in capping energy usage include: utility incentive programs, more energy-efficient appliances, and higher energy efficiency standards. In fact, just about every three years, the State of California is raising the bar on Building Energy Efficiency Standards.

According to the California Energy Commission, “Energy efficiency is identified as the first strategy for accomplishing GHG reduction targets because it is the least cost, most environmentally sensitive and expeditious approach to reduce the contribution to climate change in the building sector, which is second only to on-road vehicles in statewide GHG emission.” In addition, in 2007 the Commission published an Integrated Energy Policy Report that “established the goal that new building standards achieve “net zero energy” levels by 2020 for residences and by 2030 for commercial buildings. A net zero energy building consumes only as much energy on an annual basis as can be generated with an on-site renewable energy system. The Energy Commission has begun a path toward a tiered approach to achieve zero net energy in future building standards.” As 2020 approaches, I wonder how close we’ll come to achieving the goal.

According to the EPA, buildings account for:
- 36 percent of total energy use and 65 percent of electricity consumption
- 30 percent of greenhouse gas emissions
- 30 percent of raw materials use
- 30 percent of waste output (136 million tons annually)
- 12 percent of potable water consumption

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