ATLANTA — Zero-energy buildings (ZEBs) eliminate the use of nonrenewable energy sources by decreasing energy use and producing enough renewable energy to meet the annual energy use attributable to their buildings. While the concept of ZEBs is generally accepted in the building industry, no common definition exists. This creates a challenge in trying to incentivize such buildings and in developing common design strategies.

“We talk about green buildings, sustainable buildings, and high-performing buildings, but it’s hard to measure success,” said Paul Torcellini, principal engineer at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado. “Zero energy gives you an energy goal that you can predict and measure, and you know if you’ve achieved it – ‘Yes, this is,’ or ‘no, this isn’t a zero-energy building.’”

Torcellini is a speaker in a seminar on zero-energy buildings being held at the ASHRAE 2015 Annual Conference, June 27 to July 1, at the Atlanta Hilton.

The seminar, “What is a Zero-Energy Building, and How Can We Get There?,” is part of the conference’s technical program, which features 100 sessions, more than 300 presenters, and 103 paper presentations.

Torcellini is also involved in an effort by the National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS) for the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to develop a common definition for zero-energy buildings. Torcellini said the reasons for pursuing zero energy vary but often include the pursuit of cost reduction, energy sustainability and security, reduction of carbon emissions, and lessening of air and water pollution.

“Regardless of the reasons, to reduce our energy impact, we must reduce our nonrenewable fuel consumption,” he said.

The seminar discusses North American and European efforts to develop flexible and usable concepts and definitions related to zero-energy buildings and near-zero-energy buildings that can be used for a building or a group of buildings, considering on-site and nearby renewable energy options. To register for the conference or for more information, visit

Publication date: 6/15/2015 

Want more HVAC industry news and information? Join The NEWS on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn today!