Net Positive: Net Zero Energy

Net Zero Energy continues to be an important design consideration and the ultimate goal in high performance building sector energy efficiency. However, the Living Future Institute, believes the next goal to be NET Positive.
Net Positive Energy + Water Conference
At the beginning of February I attended the International Living Future Institute’s first Net Positive Energy + Water Conference that is rooted in the restorative principles of the Living Building Challenge™. There were several presentations worth mentioning starting with a presentation by Denis Hayes who is  Bullitt Foundation CEO and championed their Living Building Challenge project. He spoke about the Bullitt Center and how important it is to design efficient buildings for our cities, given the migration of the world’s population to urban centers.  Performance is what matters, he noted. Build them to be efficient and to last. Next was Jason McLennan, Living Building Challenge founder who made the point that “Life doesn’t do Zero” and spoke to the vision of Regenerative Design.
Net Zero Energy was mentioned as passe and moving to Net Positive would be the new paridime
He then asked “Can you imagine going into Google and buying a thermaostat?”  “I want to go to the Apple Store to buy a toilet” suggesting that technoogy would advance solutions such as water efficiency.

Net Positive Water
A Panel discussion on “Water justice in an era of scarcity: the new reality” presented interesting challenges to future designs related to water. Here are some interesting correlations of water to energy. Water and energy are closely interlinked as well as being interdependent. Energy generation and transmission consume water resources, particularly for hydroelectric, nuclear, and thermal energy sources. It was interesting that this conference was in California where a drought has been going on for the last few years and utilizes hydro power. Similarly, about 8 percent of global energy generation is used for pumping, treating and transporting water to various consumers. Envelope First Energy Efficiency helps contribute to many of the goals of Net Positive Energy and Water. By first designing the envelope as a high performance, thermally efficient enclosure system, that baseline reduces the amount of renewables needed to meet the Net Positive Energy Efficiency goal.

Costs & Financing:
The most interesting take away session spoke to alternative energy efficiency financing concepts.
MEETS (Metered Energy Efficiency Transaction Structure Models) is a program where utilities could be funders for energy efficiency improvements. Such programs include long term (10+ year payback) energy efficiency strategies. This program enables third-party investors to provide the financing for an efficiency retrofit such as a super insulated envelope.  The investor pays a monthly fee to the building owner for the opportunity to install the efficiency measure in the building (just as a wind farm investor pays a rental fee to ranchers for use of their land).


Designing a high performance building starts with envelope first energy efficiency and Kingspan’s panels that are proven high performance envelope solutions.  Providing new mechanisms in funding envelope energy efficiency and renewables in a Net Zero Energy goal will help meet the goal of reducing related Green House Gases  (GHG).

John AnDary of the Integral Group spoke about designing many NZE buildings starting by establishing an energy target such as and EUI (energy use intensity). He spoke to the general principles of “energy produced to energy used”. John also addressed the envelope as the most cost effect start to achieving  NZE / Net Positive targets. The support of upfront analysis through Kingspan’s  “Energiservices” will provide design teams important performance scenarios to assist in making more informed decisions. 
Sustainable Energy in America Factbook

Part of my current work with Kingpsan is bringing greater attention to envelope first energy efficiency as the most economical solution in reduction of building energy loads and related Green House Gases.  This includes working on driving energy efficiency at Federal and State through legislation, energy codes and standards as well as various green building NGOs such as LEED and Green Globes. Part of the energy efficiency challenge is easy access to reliable energy information resources and this year Kingpan is pleased to announce participation as a  sponsor for the Sustainable Energy in America Factbook. The Factbook is researched and produced by Bloomberg New Energy Finance and commissioned by the Business Council for Sustainable Energy. The 2014 edition of the Sustainable Energy in America Factbook provides up-to-date, accurate market intelligence about the broad range of industries. Energy efficiency, renewable energy and natural gas are contributing to the country's move towards cleaner energy production and more efficient energy usage.
Findings from the 2014 Factbook include:

•Natural gas and renewable energy provided over 40 percent of U.S. electricity generation in 2013, down slightly from 2012, but up 10 percent since 2007.
•U.S. energy use has fallen 5 percent from 2007 to 2013, while GDP is estimated to have grown by 6 percent. This demonstrates the increased energy productivity of the U.S. economy.
•Clean energy generation sources and energy efficiency improvements have driven U.S. greenhouse gas emissions down nearly 10 percent since 2005, dramatically reversing decades of increases.
•The U.S. is now more than halfway to reaching President Obama’s goal of a 17 percent reduction from 2005 levels by 2020.

It is a FREE download.


Tagged Living Building Challenge, Net Positive, Net Zero, Net Zero Energy, Sustainable Energy | 1113 comments

The Clean Air Act: Environment & Sustainability

EPA and States on Regulation of Existing Power Plants Under Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act

Discussion of the Clean Air Act is not intended to be political in content, but rather to address the opportunity for envelope first energy efficiency. This is part of a portfolio of solutions to reduce energy consumption through highly efficient envelop performance.  There are a wide range of commercially-available clean energy technologies utilized such as renewable energy and energy efficiency. This includes the envelope first strategy that should be eligible for compliance options under EPA’s 111(d) requirements for State Implementation Plans (SIPs).
EM&V (Energy Measurement & Verification) is a key to properly estimating energy savings and then translating savings into avoided emissions. While this process is complex, there is a growing body of experience and credentialed EM&V. Kingspan’s “Energiservices” includes an energy engineer along with improved protocols and methods. EM&V can be performed in a credible manner, including using methods being developed in federal, regional and state programs or market design ─ as well as by customers with advanced software and metering. Energy efficiency can also be reasonably translated into emissions avoidance, including using EPA-developed tools. Further, actual power sector emissions data will allow states, markets, utilities and private sector actors to improve their quantification as well as their programs.
The Envelope impacts over 50% of the rest of the building’s performance

There is proven performance of envelope first energy efficiency of the opaque walls. Examples include insulated panels, window integration/ penetrations/ air-tightness/ thermal bridges and interfaces. The building fabrics are part of the whole building  envelope that can provide up to 30% of energy cost savings and related GHG reductions.

Tagged and, building performance, Clean Air Act, emissions avoidance, energy cost savings, energy efficiency, envelope first, environment, insulated panels, sustainability | 2620 comments

LEED V4 Material Transparency: Green Building

Most recently Doug Pierce of Perkins and Will wrote a white paper on Fixing the Toxic Loopholes in LEED V4 and EPDs. An excerpt from the article states: “LEED V4 and Environmental Product Declarations have a giant, toxic loophole that designers, green professionals, and the USGBC need to know about.
After digging around in the International Standard Organization’s (ISO) 14025 guidelines governing Environmental Product Declarations (one of the new material health tools recently endorsed by LEED), sustainability leaders at Perkins+Will found that ISO compliant EPDs are hiding a nasty blemish. Manufacturers are not effectively required to publish their product’s impact on human health and ecological toxicity impacts. The same EPD that offers a broad, detailed environmental impact statement for everything from global warming to acid rain is not required by the ISO or LEED V4 to identify their impacts on human health and ecological toxicity.
From what we are starting to see in the market, manufacturers making toxic products are taking advantage of this loophole and developing EPDs that don’t transparently report on human health and ecological toxicity.

“Under the ISO EPD rules, today’s toxic products can gain kudos for disclosing some environmental impacts and can even contribute to a LEED Certification – all while selectively omitting their most insidious environmental challenge: toxicity impacts”.
- See more at:
Mr. Pierce is addressing an area that absolutely needs additional consideration in EPD reporting. In the presentations that I make about the Kingspan Insulated Panels EPD, I have been completely upfront that this is one area of reporting that was not currently included in the EPD. However, I think the characterization that manufacturers are hiding a nasty blemish is completely misrepresented. As product category rules were established the program managers guided discussions about toxicity and it was agreed at this time there were no reliable databases for this information. This omission was recognized and that is how, in part, the HPD – Health Product Declaration was developed. All understood that toxicity reporting in the EPD was inevitable.

In Mr. Pierce’s paper he suggests that the HPD might in fact fill that void. However, now I am not so quick to agree without further clarification. The HPD is reporting hazards. USEtox is a model based on scientific consensus for characterizing human and ecotoxicological impacts of chemicals in life cycle impact assessment. The main output includes a database of recommended and interim characterization factors including environmental fate, exposure, and effect parameters for human toxicity and ecotoxicity. Is toxicity in an EPD to simply report hazards of various materials or disclose risk & exposure? Is in fact the USEtox a viable tool adequate for the US based materials PCR rules require continued reviews for updates and new reporting boundaries as needed.

I might also point out that chemicals are currently reported in EPDs as Ecotoxicity; see-  These are the environmental impacts of manufacturing of various chemistries and materials.
Manufacturers, associations and suppliers are working through this quagmire of toxicity reporting. There are many issues to be considered by manufacturers and the design community. To portray manufacturers as hiding information is an oversimplification of complex upstream reporting. Expressing these concerns to the manufacturing sector and working with industry in a cooperative approach, like the HPD effort, is a step in the right direction. The HPD is challenging most manufacturers and their suppliers as well as LCA Practioners and Program Managers because of the lack of available data.
If the HPD can be incorporated into the EPD manufacturers, it would most likely support one concise document to report this information as opposed to two documents. The design professionals would have to consider the data. I would also encourage Mr. Pierce to do more fact checking on his references regarding FTC Environmental Claims reporting. See:

Lastly, I would like to point out that health and related hazards/ toxicities are but one area of material evaluation. This also includes functional performance, compliance and many other criteria required for inclusion in a project. There will be trade-offs in this discussion that will need to be understood by all. - See more at:

Tagged ecological toxicity, Environmental Product Declaration, EPD, LEED V4, toxicity reporting | 2471 comments

Sustainability: ASHRAE 90.1

While attending the main committee meeting of ASHRAE 90.1 in January, the Chairman basically challenged the committees and sub-committees by asking; "What is next for 90.1 and energy codes?" He further amplified that 90.1 had been raising the bar for the last several cycles and he was looking for concepts for the next level of performance.

Although no one answered the question, there were a lot of private conversations going on. I believe the most common theme to these side bar discussions were the transition to Outcome Based Energy Efficiency Performance Requirements.

NEEP, Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnership, reported that Performance-based codes use energy modeling software to demonstrate that a building’s predicted energy consumption/cost is equal to or lower than a baseline target specified by prescriptive code requirements. This baseline reference value is generated from prescriptive code components such as materials and systems together with inputs from the proposed building. For example, building orientation and occupancy schedules.

Code officials would then review energy efficiency results to verify compliance, a strategy that allows for greater flexibility because the energy modeling is capable of evaluating a variety of design strategies, components and technologies. In this way, new buildings benefit from modeling efforts that determine the means by which to achieve the greatest energy savings for the least cost. 

Performance-based codes can be strengthened further with mandatory minimum requirements that make compliance verification easier.

Re-Inventing Building Energy Codes as Technology and Market Drivers was presented at the 2010 ACEEE Summer Study on Energy Efficiency in Buildings. The concept of mandatory minimum requirements for certain components, such as the envelope, recquire a performance code path to be developed.

The example that Chris Mathis, Mathis Consulting Company, suggested was that minimum U-values could be set as minimum requirements possibly based on building type and climate zone. Then let the market decide the technology solutions to deliver the U-Values.

The National Institute of Building Sciences  is also moving this direction with comments with advancing outcome based energy efficiency in ASHRAE 189.1 – Standard for the Design of High Performance Green Buildings

Outcome Based Energy Efficiency Performance Requirements are certainly not a new concept but perhaps the time has come for beginning a transition to actually adopt into Code?

Insulated Metal Panels already use a performance path for compliance and Kingspan can demonstrate how this concept works on your next project.

Transform from inefficient energy systems to efficient performance based codes and solutions.


Net Zero Energy

Energy Efficiency Rebound

The topic of energy efficiency rebound has been discussed over the last few years with varying opinions of accuracy. In a recent review of a recladding project of an existing building, the predictive energy modeling differed from that of the data after one year of operation. Current research prohibits me to speak of the specific project but there are general observations worth mentioning that might be considered effects of “rebounding”.

PB 09 13 14 Net Zero Energy

What is the rebound effect?

As explained in the ACEEE White paper– The Rebound Effect: Large or Small – As the energy efficiency of products, homes and businesses improves, it becomes less expensive to operate them. The rebound effect is a postulate that people increase their use of products and facilities as a result of this reduction in operating costs, thereby reducing energy savings achieved. The most extreme position is that rebound can wipe out all of the energy savings caused by the efficiency gains, a phenomenon labeled “backfire”.  This paper further defines Direct and Indirect Rebound. In their conclusion both direct and indirect rebound are found to be 10% or less and combined represent about 20%. Claims of “backfire” (100%) rebound do not stand up to scrutiny.

In his article The Efficiency dilemma – If our machines use less energy, will we just use them more? by David Owe, he focuses around the Jevons paradox (sometimes known as the Jevons effect) that is the proposition that technological progress that increases the efficiency with which a resource is used tends to increase (rather than decrease) the rate of consumption of that resource or “rebound effect”.

Before getting into the specifics of this project, I would like to define Energy Efficiency Rebound and related discussions. As with many scientific studies, there are ongoing debates about “rebounding” and in his Blog – James Barrett provides this opinion: The rebound effect is real and it makes sense. But it’s not enough to observe that energy use has gone up despite efficiency gains and conclude that the rebound effect makes efficiency efforts a waste of time. As our per capita income increases, we’ll end up buying more of lots of things, maybe even energy. His concluding question was how much higher would energy use have been otherwise?

The even more interesting question he poses is whether efficiency growth can ever overpower the effect of income growth and start reducing energy consumption in absolute terms?

PB 09 13 7 Net Zero Energy









Retrofit of Existing Buildings and “Rebounding”

Back to the Retrofit project, a multi-family unit, where the predictive energy modeling of over 70% improvement differed by 10 to 20% from energy reporting after one year of operation yet still delivered between 50 to 60% energy efficiency improvement over baseline with highly insulated metal panel cladding, new boiler and windows. Current analysis is pointing to occupants controlled thermostats and operable windows as the likely suspect of “rebounding”.  An example is where the room temperature was set too high by an occupant causing windows to be opened to cool down rooms above that unit. Solutions to this example are being reviewed and might include smart programmable thermostats for better optimization of the energy systems along with more education on energy management to the tenants.

This clearly is a case were intended use was different than predicted use. Not exactly a match to “rebounding” as described above, but there seems to be a correlation based around the occupant’s control of the environment and resulting in additional energy consumption.

This brings me back to last quarter’s blog on Envelope First Energy Efficiency. Designing the envelope for optimized performance will enhance all the other energy conservation measures.  If the envelope is under performing and leaking, it is a much more difficult fix those energy deficiency’s than adjusting building controls.

Kingspan’s “Energiservices” and their certified energy manager are available to assist building teams conduct envelope first energy efficiency scenarios for designing an optimized solution to reduce unintentional “rebounding” as related to energy efficiency
of the building.

NetZeror1 Net Zero Energy



Tagged Net Zero Energy, Netzero building, Rebound Effect | 131 comments

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