Green Vision House Brings Net Zero Energy to EPCOT
by Victoria Laney, Contributing Editor
September 12, 2012
The Green Vision House in the Innoventions pavillion at EPCOT is designed to use netzero energy. From smog eating roof tiles to formaldehyde free floors, the House presents green living ideas in a fun and informative manner.
Photovoltaic panels by Hanwha generate electricity on the roof. The panels have an advanced coating that repels dirt and keeps the panels operating at top efficiency. The panels rest on smog-eating roof tiles by Boral. The tiles have a special coating that is activated by daylight. The coating helps convert harmful Nitrogen Oxides into Calcium Nitrates. When it rains, the Calcium Nitrates are washed off the roof. The tile coating also hinders the formation of mold and algae on the roof.
Guests enter the house through a front door featuring a Schlage lock that can be opened with most smart phones. Internet enabled devices also control security cameras, blinds, and air conditioning at the residence. This helps reduce energy usage so that the photovoltaic panels provide enough power for the house to be self-sustaining.
The entire house is a showcase for energy efficiency and recycling. For example, the dining room features bright red chairs. Each is made from 111 recycled plastic 20 oz bottles. The table is set with silver plated knives, forks and spoons in an eclectic mix of patterns that were formerly used at various restaurants. In the Living room, furniture is made of recycled or repurposed materials. Chair cushions are made from cloth sacks.
“Through the VISION House, we will illustrate that we can all provide our families with necessities like sustenance and shelter as well as comfort and convenience, while simultaneously preserving the environment,” said Green Builder Media CEO Sara Gutterman.
The vision house website has rich content for parents, kids and teachers at http://www.visionhousegreen.com./. Hands-on videos show how to make innovative projects like a solar heater from soda cans. Kids can watch episodes of Vision Tales cartoons and enter contests with prizes like solar backpacks. Kids with questions about green living can pose them to Isabel, a fish who blogs. The site is intended to be fun and not preachy. “This is not edutainment — it is entertainment,” said Matt Power of Green Builder.
The green home exhibit is a collaboration between Walt Disney Imagineering and Green Builder Media. It is part of Green Builder Media’s VISION House Series. The Vision House Series features actual residences built around the country. They are designed to demonstrate that a successful building is more than a simple shelter – it is an interactive set of systems that combine to create a truly green living environment for inhabitants, Gutterman said. For more information, visit www.greenbuildermag.com/VISION-HOUSE
A Passive House is a very well-insulated, virtually air-tight building that is primarily heated by passive solar gain and by internal gains from people, electrical equipment, etc. Energy losses are minimized. Any remaining heat demand is provided by an extremely small source. Avoidance of heat gain through shading and window orientation also helps to limit any cooling load, which is similarly minimized. An energy recovery ventilator provides a constant, balanced fresh air supply. The result is an impressive system that not only saves up to 90% of space heating costs, but also provides a uniquely terrific indoor air quality.
A Passive House is a comprehensive system. “Passive” describes well this system’s underlying receptivity and retention capacity. Working with natural resources, free solar energy is captured and applied efficiently, instead of relying predominantly on ‘active’ systems to bring a building to ‘zero’ energy. High performance triple-glazed windows, super-insulation, an airtight building shell, limitation of thermal bridging and balanced energy recovery ventilation make possible extraordinary reductions in energy use and carbon emission. Click here for more information.
Think of a fuel cell as a continuously operating battery. Whereas a battery stores and eventually runs out of electrical power, a fuel cell can generate electricity indefinitely, as long as it is provided with a fuel and oxygen. Simply put, a fuel cell is an electrochemical device that converts the chemical energy in a fuel such as hydrogen to electricity and thermal energy without combustion.
According to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History, the basic science behind fuel cell technology has been around since the 1838 when Sir William Robert Grove demonstrated what he called the “gas battery,” now considered the forerunner of the modern fuel cell.
Fuel cell technology never really caught on until the 1960s when NASA began using fuel cells to provide electricity aboard manned spacecraft. Information on the Kennedy Space Center’s Web site puts the first fuel cell aboard Gemini 5, which was launched in August 1965. Among the Gemini 5 mission objectives was the evaluation of the fuel cell.
Today, fuel cells promise to help California and the nation solve some of our most pressing problems;
- Dependence on foreign oil
- Poor air quality, which in California alone is linked to thousands of premature deaths and hospitalizations each year, and more than a million respiratory illnesses, school absences, and lost workdays
- Greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming
Fuel cells can run on a variety of fuels and can be sited to produce and deliver electrical power just where it’s needed. They are efficient, particularly when the waste heat they produce as a byproduct is used in cogeneration or other applications.
They produce almost zero pollutant emissions, and they are extremely quiet.
LED 101 (As explained by CREE Lighting):
What does LED stand for? Light Emitting Diodes.
What’s so great about LEDs? LEDs can be used to build energy-efficient lighting products that save energy, help protect the environment, reduce maintenance costs and make people and things look much more attractive than traditional lighting. And they can last much longer than traditional lighting.
Just how energy-efficient are LED lights? LED lighting can save up to 85 percent of the electricity used by incandescent bulbs and up to 50 percent of electricity used by fluorescents
When comparing LED lighting to fluorescent lights, energy savings depend on the type of fluorescent light. For example, LED lighting can save up to 50 percent of the energy used by CFLs and between 20 to 30 percent of the energy used by fluorescent tube lighting.
Can LED lighting really save energy and money? Take a look at the statistics. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that widespread adoption of LED lighting by 2025 will:
Reduce electricity demands from lighting by 62 percent.
- Eliminate 258 million metric tons of carbon emissions.
- Reduce the amount of materials being put into landfills.
- Avoid the building of 133 new power plants.
- Save the US over $280 billion.
Why is LED lighting better than fluorescent lighting and CFLs? LEDs don’t contain hazardous materials, such as mercury. Since fluorescent tubes and CFLs contain mercury, they must be properly disposed of in order to prevent mercury from poisoning landfills. Here are some tips from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on how to dispose of fluorescent lights.
Also, most fluorescent lights cannot be dimmed and many can flicker. Some people are sensitive to this flicker and experience headaches, migraines and eye strain. LED lighting uses solid-state technology, which allows effective dimming in many applications and eliminates flickering.
Fluorescent lights can also take several minutes to achieve full brightness and even longer in cold environments. LED lights are also instant-on and can withstand extremely cold conditions – such as those in freezer cases or on the streets of Alaska.
And, high quality LEDs produce better light that shows color more effectively than fluorescents.
How long can LED lights last? With the right design, LED lights can have a lifetime of 50,000 hours and more in continuous operation. Depending on how many hours-a-day they are operating, that can be from 6 to 7 years to as many as 20 to 30.
Unlike other lighting technologies LEDs do not completely fail—they grow dimmer. At the 50,000 hour mark, Cree’s LED lights are designed to provide at least 70 percent of their initial light output. Many different factors (such as fixture design and operating conditions like temperature and current) determine the actual lifetime of an LED.
Aren’t LED lights too expensive? A main challenge with LED lighting is that it costs more upfront, but really, it’s no different than requiring insulation in homes and buildings. It can pay for itself over time with energy savings and lower maintenance costs. Keep this in mind when you initially invest in LED lights.
Besides, how do you define expensive? Is it purely the up-front cost of a light or do you factor in the cost of the energy to run that light and, if you’re a business or government, the cost to change the lightbulb? And if you’re building a new building, installing LED lighting is often just about the same cost as traditional technology—and you’ll start saving money, through reduced energy consumption, the minute you flip the switch.
by Kirk Johnson February 14, 2011
GOLDEN, Colo. — The west-facing windows by Jim Duffield’s desk started automatically tinting blue at 2:50 p.m. on a recent Friday as the midwinter sun settled low over the Rocky Mountain foothills.
Around his plant-strewn work cubicle, low whirring air sounds emanated from speakers in the floor, meant to mimic the whoosh of conventional heating and air-conditioning systems, neither of which his 222,000-square-foot office building has, or needs, even here at 5,300 feet elevation. The generic white noise of pretend ductwork is purely for background and workplace psychology — managers found that workers needed something more than silence.
Meanwhile, the photovoltaic roof array was beating a retreat in the fading, low-angled light. It had until 1:35 p.m. been producing more electricity than the building could use — a three-hour energy budget surplus — interrupted only around noon by a passing cloud formation.
For Mr. Duffield, 62, it was just another day in what was designed, in painstaking detail, to be the largest net-zero energy office building in the nation. He’s still adjusting, six months after he and 800 engineers and managers and support staff from the National Renewable Energy Lab moved in to the $64 million building, which the federal agency has offered up as a template for how to do affordable, super-energy-efficient construction.
“It’s sort of a wonderland,” said Mr. Duffield, an administrative support worker, as the window shading system reached maximum.
Most office buildings are divorced, in a way, from their surroundings. Each day in the mechanical trenches of heating, cooling and data processing is much the same as another but for the cost of paying for the energy used.
The energy lab’s Research Support Facility building is more like a mirror, or perhaps a sponge, to its surroundings. From the light-bending window louvers that cast rays up into the interior office spaces, to the giant concrete maze in the sub-basement for holding and storing radiant heat, every day is completely different.
This is the story of one randomly selected day in the still-new building’s life: Jan. 28, 2011.
It was mostly sunny, above-average temperatures peaking in the mid-60s, light winds from the west-northwest. The sun rose at 7:12 a.m.
By that moment, the central computer was already hard at work, tracking every watt in and out, seeking, always, the balance of zero net use over 24 hours — a goal that managers say probably won’t be attainable until early next year, when the third wing of the project and a parking complex are completed.
With daylight, the building’s pulse quickened. The photovoltaic panels kicked in with electricity at 7:20 a.m.
As employees began arriving, electricity use — from cellphone chargers to elevators — began to increase. Total demand, including the 65-watt maximum budget per workspace for all uses, lighting to computing, peaked at 9:40 a.m.
Meanwhile, the basement data center, which handles processing needs for the 300-acre campus, was in full swing, peaking in electricity use at 10:10 a.m., as e-mail and research spreadsheets began firing through the circuitry.
For Mr. Duffield and his co-workers, that was a good-news bad-news moment: The data center is by far the biggest energy user in the complex, but also one of its biggest producers of heat, which is captured and used to warm the rest of the building. If there is a secret clubhouse for the world’s energy and efficiency geeks, it probably looks and feels just about like this.
“Nothing in this building was built the way it usually is,” said Jerry Blocher, a senior project manager at Haselden Construction, the general contractor for the project.
The backdrop to everything here is that office buildings are, to people like Mr. Blocher, the unpicked fruit of energy conservation. Commercial buildings use about 18 percent of the nation’s total energy each year, and many of those buildings, especially in years past, were designed with barely a thought to energy savings, let alone zero net use.
The answer at the research energy laboratory, a unit of the federal Department of Energy, is not gee-whiz science. There is no giant, expensive solar array that could mask a multitude of traditional design sins, but rather a rethinking of everything, down to the smallest elements, all aligned in a watt-by-watt march toward a new kind of building.
Managers even pride themselves on the fact that hardly anything in their building, at least in its individual component pieces, is really new. Off-the-shelf technology, cost-efficient as well as energy-efficient, was the mantra to finding what designers repeatedly call the sweet spot — zero energy that doesn’t break a sweat, or the bank. More than 400 tour groups, from government agency planners to corporations to architects, have trouped through since the first employees moved in last summer.
By Chris Keenan June 21, 2012
It’s an exciting time to be in the renewable energy or green construction industries. Year after year, new standards bodies are formed and enable all kinds of exciting new building standards and adoption of eco-friendly materials. In 2012, green building trends are moving solidly in the direction of the “Net Zero Building.” That defines a building that uses the same amount of energy per day as it produces using renewable sources like solar energy and others. This differs from standards like the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) classification, as it specifically states that building must produce and consume an equal amount of renewable energy. Essentially, the building must be neutral and “invisible.”
Net Zero Buildings are Increasingly Popular in the United States
Though the standard for a Net Zero Building is relatively new, there are actually 12 such buildings in the United States already. That’s a pretty promising sign of growth, but it’s actually not the only one. In addition to the twelve verified Net Zero buildings currently in operation nationwide, another right buildings are alleged to meet the standard set out by the group to qualify as a Net Zero operation. That would bring the total number of buildings to 20, if those eight buildings are verified, but even that is not the last sign of progress in the U.S.
In addition to the 12 (or 20) existing Net Zero buildings, dozens of new projects are underway to bring neutral renewable energy use to all kinds of environments. Office buildings are adopting an all-new kind of window that is far more energy efficient than the satyrical double-pane office window of years past, and warehouse environments are deploying advanced warehouse management system implementations to control the usage of energy and fuel sources by employees. The prospect of the Net Zero building project looks pretty bright in the United States, as adopting of green materials and energy sources increase.
Wider Adoption of Green Materials and Solar Energy in the U.S.
One of the main concerns cited by businesses and constriction outfits of every size is that going green is simply too costly. It’s certainly true that the up-front costs of solar panels and triple glazed windows, among other things, have been higher than less green alternatives since their debut. But that difference in price when buying green materials is actually starting to decrease, and eco-friendly construction projects are quickly approaching parity with traditional projects that don’t focus on green materials at all.
In 2011 alone, the up-front cost of solar panel installations dropped as much as 50 percent worldwide, making this technology more affordable than ever. Compounding that decrease in price is legislation that gives both businesses and individuals a tax credit for installing green technologies at a business or a home. This was originally intended to benefit the economy alone, but has resulted in much more construction benefitting the environment. That’s the kind of double-pronged effect that many environmentalists have been waiting for over the course of the past several decade, and it’s heartening to see such a change finally make its way to the marketplace.
Continued Tax Breaks the Key to Widespread Adoption of Net Zero Construction
The tax breaks passed by the U.S. government to encourage the construction of green buildings are set to expire in 2012 and 2013, calling into question just how sustainable the enthusiasm for green products will be. The key to ensuring long-term adoption of solar energy and eco-friendly construction materials, in the eyes of many industry professionals, is to extend these tax breaks for a few more years in order to continue reducing up-front investment costs. Eventually, the tax breaks will equal out with the downward trend in up-front costs, and the tax breaks can be safely ended without a negative impact on green construction.
In the meantime, the U.S. looks to continue its strong eco-friendly building trend, benefitting green industries, construction professionals, and the domestic economy at large.
Buildings that produce as much energy on-site as they consume are becoming more common.
By Lacey Johnson and ClimateWire March 7, 2012
A weak economy and rising energy prices have led to a buzz over building efficiency. Light bulb regulations, LEED and Energy Star ratings for homes and appliances, stricter construction codes, and government incentives are all parts of a national effort to cut energy waste in the building sector.
Nearly 40 percent of the nation’s energy is consumed by homes and commercial buildings, which means that making them more efficient would not only save money but also drastically reduce carbon emissions. So a handful of builders are taking the idea one step further: Why construct a building that uses less energy when we can make one that uses no energy at all?
That’s the philosophy behind “net-zero” buildings, and they have been springing up all over the country in recent years. By the purest definition, a net-zero building produces all the renewable energy it needs on site, drawing no more power from the grid than it gives back.
Considering that a shack in the woods is technically net zero, the concept isn’t exactly new. But advances in technology over the past decade have made it easier to design sophisticated buildings that produce 100 percent of their own energy. At least 21 commercial buildings in the United States meet net-zero standards, according to a study released yesterday by the New Buildings Institute and the Zero Energy Commercial Building Consortium.
They run the gamut from offices to libraries to elementary schools. Researchers identified eight more unverified buildings that may also be net zero and an additional 39 that would classify if they installed more on-site renewable energy systems, plus dozens more under construction.
“We are seeing commercial examples of larger and more complicated buildings, which I think is a positive sign,” says Stacey Hobart, the communications director at the New Buildings Institute. “Most of these buildings are smaller buildings, and most of them are early market adopters.” Universities and local governments have also been responsible for much of the construction, largely because “they have a charge to say, ‘This is a net-zero building,'” explains Hobart.
Expanding the possibilities
The first commercial-scale net-zero building was a center for environmental studies, completed at Oberlin College in Ohio in 2000. At that time, the project was largely an experiment in sustainable architecture.
“We intended to create not just a place for classes but rather a building that would help to redefine the relationship between humankind and the environment — one that would expand our sense of ecological possibilities,” said David Orr, the director of Oberlin’s Environmental Studies program, at the center’s groundbreaking ceremony in 1999. “We now know that such things are possible — that buildings can be designed to give more than they take.”
Commercial net-zero construction has steadily increased since then, with the number of completed buildings more than doubling since 2008, according to the latest study. Thanks to advances in structural insulation, energy-efficient appliances, new government incentives and the falling price of solar, expensive green-building projects — like net zero — are now within reach. And they don’t always require a commercial-scale budget.
When Frank Walker first stepped inside a net-zero house in Denver two summers ago, he knew he wanted to trying building one himself. As the chief operating officer of a major Colorado homebuilding company, Oakwood Homes, he couldn’t believe such a structure was possible.
“It was a 102-degree day in Denver, and the house was 72 degrees with no air conditioning and no cooling systems whatsoever,” he remembers. “It’s like building a Thermos.”
The house was contracted by a local resident who had researched German “passive houses” and wanted to have one of his own. The design was so efficient, says Walker, that “you could heat the house using a hair dryer.” Having perfected its net-zero design, Oakwood plans to start marketing more of the homes in Colorado later this year. Each four-bedroom house will feature rooftop solar panels, a high-efficiency tankless water heater, super-insulated windows and airtight construction. With a $188,000 price tag — only $9,000 more than Oakwood’s Energy Star version of the same house — it could soon be the most affordable net-zero home in the country. With about $750 in energy savings predicted annually, homeowners are expected to see a full return on their investment in less than 12 years. “We’ve hit a price point that no one else has been able to hit in our marketplace,” says Walker, and “we’ve gotten a lot of great response.” At least a dozen other U.S. commercial homebuilders have begun to offer net-zero residences. The Los Angeles-based company KB Home recently introduced a net-zero option for its houses in parts of Florida, Texas, Colorado and California. Another company, Nexus EnergyHomes, is building 59 duplex units in Frederick, Md., and 14 additional houses near the Chesapeake Bay. The duplexes are about 1,700 square feet — the same size as Oakwood’s homes — and sell for $275,000 and up. Each commercial and residential building employs a unique blend of renewable energy and architectural design to reach net zero, but there are some characteristics that nearly every structure shares. Most use solar panels to achieve the bulk of their power and have numerous windows to minimize the need for artificial light. Tight insulation and low-energy appliances are also key elements. Paradoxically, most buildings actually receive electricity bills — though not very many. This happens because a net-zero building may need to draw electricity from the grid to power its lights at night, for example, then returns that energy the next day, when its solar panels are most efficient. Likewise, residents may have to pay for heating costs in the winter, but in the summer they would receive a check for their overflow of energy. Transitioning into a net-zero world without electric bills may sound like a no-brainer, but the technology still faces significant obstacles. Cost and space remain drawbacks Some areas are also poorly suited for net zero. A building needs enough sunshine to power its solar panels, and that’s not always possible in a densely populated city, where tall buildings can cast shadows onto shorter ones. It’s also tough to keep structures cool in very hot and humid climates, like in the Southeast, says Hobart. But most experts agree the main barrier is still the price. “Most building owners aren’t going to add 1 percent to their costs. They are just going to build to code,” Hobart says. And retrofitting existing buildings to be net zero becomes even costlier. “When you put all the pieces together, the payback becomes so great that it doesn’t make sense,” Walker says of the retrofits. Aside from solar panels, thicker windows, and a new heating and cooling system, buildings often need far more insulation than the walls can hold. That requires shrinking rooms or expanding the exterior, which isn’t cheap. Walker believes net-zero upgrades are for people who “are less worried about payback and more concerned to do something good for the environment.”
$188,000 homes in Colo.
The success of a building depends largely on the people who use it. If occupants aren’t committed to reducing their personal energy use by shutting windows and turning off appliances, a net-zero structure can easily lose its status, becoming just another “efficient” building.
Having perfected its net-zero design, Oakwood plans to start marketing more of the homes in Colorado later this year. Each four-bedroom house will feature rooftop solar panels, a high-efficiency tankless water heater, super-insulated windows and airtight construction.
With a $188,000 price tag — only $9,000 more than Oakwood’s Energy Star version of the same house — it could soon be the most affordable net-zero home in the country. With about $750 in energy savings predicted annually, homeowners are expected to see a full return on their investment in less than 12 years.
“We’ve hit a price point that no one else has been able to hit in our marketplace,” says Walker, and “we’ve gotten a lot of great response.”
At least a dozen other U.S. commercial homebuilders have begun to offer net-zero residences. The Los Angeles-based company KB Home recently introduced a net-zero option for its houses in parts of Florida, Texas, Colorado and California. Another company, Nexus EnergyHomes, is building 59 duplex units in Frederick, Md., and 14 additional houses near the Chesapeake Bay. The duplexes are about 1,700 square feet — the same size as Oakwood’s homes — and sell for $275,000 and up.
Each commercial and residential building employs a unique blend of renewable energy and architectural design to reach net zero, but there are some characteristics that nearly every structure shares. Most use solar panels to achieve the bulk of their power and have numerous windows to minimize the need for artificial light. Tight insulation and low-energy appliances are also key elements. Paradoxically, most buildings actually receive electricity bills — though not very many.
This happens because a net-zero building may need to draw electricity from the grid to power its lights at night, for example, then returns that energy the next day, when its solar panels are most efficient. Likewise, residents may have to pay for heating costs in the winter, but in the summer they would receive a check for their overflow of energy.
Transitioning into a net-zero world without electric bills may sound like a no-brainer, but the technology still faces significant obstacles.
Cost and space remain drawbacks
Some areas are also poorly suited for net zero. A building needs enough sunshine to power its solar panels, and that’s not always possible in a densely populated city, where tall buildings can cast shadows onto shorter ones. It’s also tough to keep structures cool in very hot and humid climates, like in the Southeast, says Hobart. But most experts agree the main barrier is still the price.
“Most building owners aren’t going to add 1 percent to their costs. They are just going to build to code,” Hobart says. And retrofitting existing buildings to be net zero becomes even costlier.
“When you put all the pieces together, the payback becomes so great that it doesn’t make sense,” Walker says of the retrofits. Aside from solar panels, thicker windows, and a new heating and cooling system, buildings often need far more insulation than the walls can hold. That requires shrinking rooms or expanding the exterior, which isn’t cheap. Walker believes net-zero upgrades are for people who “are less worried about payback and more concerned to do something good for the environment.”