Many believe that the future of net-zero energy is already here. At the forefront, the Net-Zero Energy Coalition is not only leading the movement, but also creating what their team refers to as “The Hub,” a place where all-things-Zero-Energy (ZNE) can be discovered. From research, to outreach resources, to case studies. Part of this exemplary resource center is a Zero Energy residential project inventory & database So far, the inventory tracks over 400 projects, representing more than 3,330 buildings and 6,175 units. Learn more from Summit Director Ann Edminster and Executive Director Shilpa Sankaran.
Tell me about the purpose of the ZE residential project inventory and database.
Ann: People in the building industry are slow to innovate, and generally adopt changes by seeing what’s worked for others. We use the inventory to demonstrate success (YES, ZNE is happening!), and use case studies to transmit the specific how-to knowledge — what goes into a ZNE home? What were the results? Is this house the same size, climate, or style as something I would build? Ultimately, we want to establish the rate of growth in order to measure progress in ZNE adoption.
Shilpa: Driving it all is our collaborative DNA and our true belief that change can only happen if we work in tandem with other non-profit partners, funders, manufacturers, cities, utilities, and the builders themselves. This is the basis of our “coalition.” We intend to launch a multi-year campaign to compel the industry to build zero energy buildings today. We will back this up with the “Hub” described, which includes the zero energy residential project inventory and database.
Who’s the target market for the database?
Ann: Our primary audience is the developers, builders, and design professionals who will be creating ZNE residential projects, so they can learn from others and shorten their learning curve. Another audience is supply chain stakeholders, such as product manufacturers, who have an interest in understanding what the ZNE building community needs and how they can play a role in this market. A further audience is change-makers such as public agencies, non-profits, and education organizations, to help them understand the shape of this sector of the building industry and how it is evolving.
When did the project start and how has it progressed?
Ann: The inventory started sometime mid-2015, with database refinement taking place in stages throughout 2016. Adding case studies to the database is an ongoing effort, though we hope to add roughly 50 over the course of the next year.
Shilpa: For years, we have been asked the question “how many zero energy homes exist?” We asked others and found varying answers and varying sources of information. Additionally, many of our members want to connect with others and learn from their projects. In 2015, we decided to embark on this initiative to answer the “how many” question, track the trends and progress over time, and give visibility to the great projects that have been built.
What stage is the project currently in?
Ann: The baseline 2015 inventory was published in January, and we’re developing an update to be launched in 2017. The baseline establishes the known quantities as of Q1 2016, and updates published over time will chart this progress. The database has 60 in-depth case studies in it, but we want to add many more. And the larger hub — of which the inventory & database are just a part — has yet to be realized.
Shilpa: Entering the data could take anywhere from half an hour to two hours, depending on how much data you provide and how well-prepared you are. We’ve developed an instruction sheet to help with the information-gathering ahead of time.
How are you funding the project?
Ann: Funding has largely been from Rockefeller Brothers Fund, supplemented by other NZEC supporters and sponsors you see named on our website.
Shilpa: As is typical with the Coalition, we drive initiatives that multiple stakeholders will benefit from. Since so many organizations were asking the same questions and seeking the same answers, funders saw the opportunity to create greater impact by supporting one single project. No doubt, we have more to do with the larger vision of the “Hub”. We have seed funding to begin the project, but are actively seeking other organizations that want to participate in order to reap the benefits of a single, centralized location for all things zero energy that will catapult the market on an individual project level, all the way to the city and state level.
What are the challenges/rewards associated with the project?
Ann: Myriad! Personally, I find the issues related to how the inventory and database are structured to be quite captivating, both from a technical perspective and relative to the policy implications — e.g., how do we evaluate whether a project has in fact achieved zero net energy? Closely related is the stakeholders to whom this matters , among them several organizations/agencies that have ZNE programs and tools (ILFI, Earth Advantage, DOE, and others), and the question of how we make the data valuable to them. This entails working with those organizations, which I enjoy very much.
What are the potential impacts and/or implications from this project inventory and database?
Ann: The data we are amassing has the potential to influence residential design as well as to give shape to policy, programs, and products.
What’s next now that the database has been created?
Ann: It needs to be continually populated with more case studies as this sector evolves, so we continue to enable people to learn from the ongoing evolution!
Shilpa: It’s more like a zero energy revolution! We decided to get ahead of the game, knowing that zero energy will become the standard and gain momentum over the next 3-5 years. Our plan, in the short-term, is to first grow the case study database for use by practitioners and a tool for policy and program-makers nationally. Secondly, when we launch our industry campaign in 2017/2018, we want to have a one-stop tool (the “Hub”) for the entire ecosystem to use that will enable them to build zero energy projects and create market demand.
What’s the day-to-day like of your respective jobs?
Ann: Very eclectic. I spend a lot of time in meetings and conference calls, as well as a lot of time in front of my computer — responding to emails, writing, developing presentation materials, catching up with industry news, etc. I’m also frequently away at industry events, doing talks, participating in workshops, teaching classes. My favorite part of the work is the interactions with my colleagues, whether in meetings, workshops, or classes. This is a wonderful field to work in because it’s populated with the best people in the world! They’re dedicated, passionate, smart, and fun.
Shilpa: There is no standard day-to-day, which is exactly the most rewarding part. This is a dynamic environment, and we are at the tipping point within the industry. On a daily basis I am learning about the new, innovative work being done by partners, manufacturers, and practitioners. In all of this, we are finding creative ways to collaborate and share what people are learning. The most challenging part is making those collaborations a reality.
How did you get interested in zero energy?
Ann: After seeing LEED for Homes launch (I co-chaired its development for USGBC), I was looking for the ‘next big thing’ that would move the housing industry forward, and my crystal ball told me that was zero energy — so that’s where I decided to put my energy. Writing Energy Free: Homes for a Small Planet was my full-immersion experience, and it’s been full speed ahead in this work ever since. That was published in December 2009. Making a difference in the world, and teaching in particular sparks my passion. I am eternally driven to get my hands on bigger levers for change, so I’m always looking for what those levers might be.
Shilpa: I built my first zero energy home in 2009. It’s now net positive performing! It was the first demonstration project my company built in our offsite construction plant in California. We had a vision that zero energy was possible at an affordable price point, and set out to prove it. I’ve been hooked ever since. Since 2009, the industry has lurched ahead, past proving it can be done, to showing that it is a better way to build and live.
Are you seeing a lot of progress in this area?
Ann: Yes! In ten years, the notion of zero energy has grown tremendously! I wouldn’t say it’s quite a household word just yet, but it’s almost there. A decade ago, there were just a handful of people in the country, really, actively engaged with the field.
What’s next for each of you career-wise?
Ann: As a self-employed small business owner, that’s always in the process of unfolding. At the moment I’m working on a couple of really exciting projects — zero-energy faculty and staff housing for UC Davis, and a Sustainable Building Framework for San Francisco State University. I also have a couple of California state-funded projects on the near horizon related to the State’s long-range energy goals. And I am working with a number of architects, developers, and homeowners on private residential zero-energy projects.
Shilpa: More of the same. My specialty is driving market transformation – creating economic opportunity for industries that will adapt and thrive in a cleaner energy future. There is so much potential!
Ann Edminster is the summit director for the Net-Zero Energy Coalition and a long-time member of its advisory board. A leader in green building and sustainable homes, Ann is a principal developer of LEED for Homes and was named Affordable Comfort, Inc.’s first Woman of the Year in 2013. She chaired the Green Building Task Force for the US, Canada, and Mexico’s Commission for Environmental Cooperation from 2010-2015. In 2009, she wrote Energy Free: Homes for a Small Planet, a how-to for builders and designers to create zero net energy homes.
Shilpa Sankaran is the Executive Director for the Net-Zero Energy Coalition. A social entrepreneur at heart, she co-founded ZETA Communities, the first U.S. manufacturer of net-zero energy modular buildings, in 2008. She also co-founded Alpha Group SF, which advises social entrepreneurships in sustainable development, cleantech, and energy. In the past, Shilpa was appointed by the California Public Utilities Commission as a Champion for the Zero Net Energy Action Plan initiative. She’s also worked as a consultant at PriceWaterhouse Coopers and Sapient Corp., providing management consulting services to high-level clients, including General Motors, Wells Fargo Bank, Nike, and others.
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