Back to Basics, Emergency Preparedness, Energy Management and Lighting, Heating and Cooling, Maintenance and Operations, Sustainability/Business Continuity

Back to Basics: Defining Net Zero for Facilities

Back to Basics is an article series that highlights important, but possibly overlooked, information facilities management professionals should know.

Most facilities professionals have heard the term “net zero buildings” before but perhaps don’t know exactly what it means or why they should convert their facilities to net zero. Commercial, educational, industrial, and nonprofit facilities should go net zero by incorporating energy efficiency principles and by installing renewable energy.

What Is Net Zero, and Why Is It Important?

Net zero means that facilities make their own energy that meets or exceeds their requirements, but those requirements can be lowered by taking energy efficiency steps first, according to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

The United Nations says net zero is needed to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to “avert the worst impacts of climate change and preserve a livable planet” and aims to go net zero globally by 2050.

There are a number of benefits to having a net zero building, according to the DOE, which include:

  • Reduced energy costs: Less energy to heat, cool, and run appliances and electronics by switching to more energy-efficient models.
  • Increased comfort for occupants: More natural light to reduce artificial lighting and improve workers’ mental health.
  • Positive environmental impact: Enhanced reputation by attracting customers who prioritize sustainability and encourage employee retention.
  • Reliable and affordable operations: Mitigate power outages caused by extreme weather with energy that’s affordable with lower operating and maintenance costs.
  • Improved energy security: Renewable energy accommodates disruptions of supply in energy markets, which increases costs, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

How to Go Net Zero Through Energy Savings

Renovating existing buildings or building new ones to be net zero is important in saving both energy and money.

Consider saving energy by using the following technologies and techniques suggested by the DOE:

  • Building envelope and architectural considerations: Use natural light by considering building orientation, window glazing, material and color of interior and exterior surfaces, shading, and thermal insulation measures.
  • Passive design techniques: Use interior and exterior thermal mass, including walls, and improve thermal comfort for occupants.
  • Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems: Downsize equipment to meet cooling and heating requirements.
  • Lighting: Use high-efficiency light-emitting diodes (LEDs) and advanced lighting controls with daylighting design strategies.
  • Plug load management: Use advanced power strips, wireless meters, and controls.
  • Kitchen equipment and design: Include energy-efficient appliances, exhaust ventilation systems, and proper hood designs.

How to Go Net Zero Through Renewable Energy

The United Nations recommends that facilities transition from fossil fuels, like coal, oil, and gas, to renewable energy sources, which can generate three times more jobs than fossil fuels.

Here are the most common forms of renewable energy:

  • Solar energy: Converts sunlight into energy using photovoltaic panels or through mirrors concentrating solar radiation. It’s the most abundant of all energy sources.
  • Wind energy: Harnesses the kinetic energy of moving air using large wind turbines on land or in the sea. Average wind speeds can vary by location.
  • Geothermal energy: Uses thermal energy from the Earth’s interior by extracting it using geothermal reservoir wells. It’s mostly accessible in western U.S. states, but it will potentially be available throughout the country in the future.
  • Hydropower: Converts the energy of water moving from higher to lower elevations. It must be near either a reservoir or a river.
  • Ocean energy: A new energy system that uses the kinetic and thermal energy of seawater waves or currents. It needs to be near the ocean.
  • Bioenergy: Produced from a variety of organic materials called biomass, like wood, charcoal, and manure. It should only be used in limited applications due to potential negative environmental impacts.

Net Zero Emissions

Industrial facilities should also strive for net zero emissions, which remove carbon from the atmosphere—also known as carbon removal, according to the World Resources Institute. Fossil-fueled vehicles and factories should reduce their emissions to as close to 0 as possible.

Remaining emissions would need to be balanced with carbon removal, which can happen by restoring forests or through direct air capture and storage (DACS) by scrubbing carbon from the atmosphere.

Learn More

No matter the type of facility you manage, it’s important to take steps to become net zero to save not only energy but also protect the bottom line. Learn more about going net zero by checking out “An Actionable Plan to Achieve Net Zero” and about microgrid solar solutions by reading “Planning for No Power: Experts Provide a Look at Microgrid Solutions,” both on Facilities Management Advisor.

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