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Jen Alic

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Net-Zero Living, A Few Decades Shy of Affordable

Net zero energy buildings produce as much energy as they consume via on-site renewable energy, but it will be about three decades before they become something more than a luxury of the well-to-do environmentally conscious—and even longer before net-zero living becomes a normal way of life. 

That said, technological innovations and declining prices make for a healthy prognosis for the net zero building, according to a study released on 19 June by Pike Research.

Most of the necessary net zero home technology already exists--such as triple-glazed windows, LED lighting and solar panels—but it either is not cost-effective in comparison with conventional applications or the average consumer is balking at the up-front costs even when the year-on-year energy savings are better.

The next few decades, however, will see net zero homes become accessible to the average consumer, while net zero energy buildings could see an increase in revenue globally to nearly $700 billion by 2020 and $1.3 trillion by 2035, according to Pike Research.  

 “Zero energy buildings constitute only a small fraction of the overall green building market today,” Pike senior analyst Eric Bloom opines in a press release. “While several dozen buildings of this type have been constructed in the United States, and while the Passivhaus movement in Europe is achieving zero energy in many residential and commercial buildings, the market as a whole remains essentially dormant. That is changing as advances in building technology provide breakthrough solutions to energy efficiency and renewable energy challenges, while driving down costs for existing technologies.”

If you want to see where the net zero home industry is going, follow the technology.

Triple-glazed windows are expensive, but new electrochromic glass technology used to produce a variety of “smart glasses” could strengthen the product and lead to lower prices. That technology already exists, but is only embryonic. Electrochromic glass draws its properties from a thin transparent glaze over as many as five layers of ceramic coating that when combined are thinner than a strand of human hair. The glass darkens with the application of low voltage, while reverse polarity removes the shading. Fortune Tech, citing a study by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, says the potential energy savings of up to 30% are attracting significant investment that will eventually drive down prices.

In the case of LED lighting, the next five years could see global energy savings of around $100 billion through widespread adoption, according to IMS Research, which predicts that by 2016 the market will be at around 4 billion units. This is in part due to legislation but experts say that once consumers become more aware of the savings year on year from using LED lighting, the market will pick up rapidly. 

The solar industry is also still growing, despite the bleak predictions that followed the bankruptcy of subsidy-reliant Solyndra. The industry registered annual revenue growth of over 32% from 2002 to 2012, and this year expects a more modest 9%. Solar panel prices have fallen exponentially, with prices dropping by half globally in 2011. The US Chamber of Commerce’s plans to impose a hefty 31% tariff on Chinese panels could see photovoltaic (PV) panel prices increase by 30 cents more per watt.

The idea of the net zero home will gain momentum in tandem with these and related technologies, and the trend is clearly and upward one. While the average American homeowner will not be able to afford one any time soon, and is probably not even considering such, public net zero public buildings are becoming more common. The US now boasts over 20 net zero energy buildings—from schools to libraries--and more in the works.

By. Jen Alic of Oilprice.com

Jen Alic is a geopolitical analyst, co-founder of ISA Intel in Sarajevo and Tel Aviv, and the former editor-in-chief of ISN Security Watch in Zurich.


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  • H149 on July 06 2012 said:
    Whilst the up front $ price of going net zero looks expensive, the ongoing $ cost savings are already a much better investment than giving money to financial institutions, which is what most pensioners get told to do by the .. financial institutions. Does anyone spot the conflict of interest here? If you want to start small and start soon then it is now possible to get two solar panels and a suitable grid tie inverter within $1000. Ask your local electrician to help if you are unsure about which to get.

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