The Value of Zero

A Commercial Zero Energy (NZE) building produces as much or more renewable energy as it consumes over the course of a year. These buildings reduce reliance on non-renewable energy sources and achieve Net Zero status, initially through high levels of energy efficiency and conservation measures. This effort is then advanced by the selection of building mechanicals and appliances that use electricity and finally through the addition of onsite renewable power generation.

Zero energy meter

High Performance Building Costs

The Path to Zero Energy (ZE) is surprisingly accessible. There are numerous examples of commercial buildings achieving ZE, or near Zero Energy (NZE) with little or no added project cost. Costs are managed based on decisions made by the project team during the integrated design process.

Several studies have found the incremental cost of producing Commercial Zero Energy buildings to be in the range of 0-15% more than conventional construction costs. This incremental cost is for design and construction only and does not consider the life-cycle cost savings of lower energy costs to operate and maintain the building over time.

  • Why pay more to develop a Zero Energy building? The first costs of moving towards ZE may be more, but the financial benefits of the return on investment, payback period and overall savings make it worthwhile.
  • What are the financial benefits of developing a Zero Energy building?
    • Savings between 20-50%
    • Payback between 5-10 years
    • Internal Rate of Return (IRR) between – 10-25%
  • How much more does a Zero Energy building cost to develop?
    • cost increase of 3-5%
    • upfront cost between 0-100%
Performance analysis

Creating a Net Zero Building

Achieving Commercial Zero Energy objectives requires a combination of best practice energy efficiency measures and renewable energy production. First; REDUCING building energy consumption in new building construction or renovation can be accomplished through various means. This starts with integrated design, energy efficiency retrofits, reduced plug loads and energy conservation programs. Reduced energy consumption makes it simpler and less expensive to meet the building’s energy needs with renewable sources of energy.

Designing for high energy performance is the first step and requires establishing a goal at the beginning of the project and working under an “Integrated Design Process.” Design teams must:

  1. REDUCE the amount of energy a building uses through use of the most efficient envelope strategies and energy efficient technologies, including lighting and insulation. Proper siting to take advantage of passive cooling is also important.
  2. ELECTRIFICATION entails selection of highly energy efficient technologies; building mechanicals, HVAC and controls.
  3. REPLACE is the installation of renewable generation onsite to meet the remaining energy needs of the building. Installed renewable resources have primarily been solar panels.
  4. OPTIMIZE the way the building actually operates and how people use it. This includes managing of plugged-in devices, building automation and controls. Work with occupants and residents to ensure they understand Zero Energy goals and how to maintain low energy use.
Energy, schematic design


There are multiple compelling benefits associated with the marketing of low energy, high performance buildings for commercial property developers and building owners:

  1. Workforce. Today’s workforce wants to work in places that care about their employees’ health and about being green. Studies show the majority of younger workers are very concerned about climate change and the environment. Low energy and solar powered buildings appeal to this audience of innovative workers.
  2. Resilient and Safer. Green buildings with passive heating and cooling and ventilation and capacity to tap into renewables are more resilient and safer for occupants when there are power outages due to natural disasters and extreme weather events. For instance, they heat up and cool down much slower than average buildings.
  3. Public Relations. Green buildings often garner attention from the press. Developers spend a significant amount to advertise a new building in order to generate interest in the building and lease it more quickly. Developers who have championed green buildings are often able to get significant local real estate press at no cost that can offset marketing budgets. This press is often regarded as more credible, and is typically well received.
Net Zero Marketing

Zero Energy Transformation

Commercial Zero Energy buildings have a tremendous potential to transform the way buildings use energy and  an increasing number of building owners want to meet this target. Private commercial property owners are interested in developing ZE to facilities to meet their corporate goals. Some have already constructed buildings designed to be zero energy. In response to regulatory mandates, federal government agencies and many state and local governments are beginning to move toward Zero Energy targets. However, definitions differ from region to region and from organization to organization, leading to confusion and uncertainty around what constitutes a Zero Energy buildings. ReWire is here to help shed some light and lead the way to the Zero Energy and Low Carbon future.

Energy Transformation
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