Establishing a Common Definition for Zero Energy Buildings: Time to Move the Market

Paul Torcellini, Kent Peterson, Cody Taylor, Roger Grant

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


To change the current paradigm from buildings being consumers of energy to producers of energy requires a common language to facilitate market transformation. Common definitions help create market movement by sharing concepts across market actors. While the term 'zero energy buildings' has been in the marketplace for over 20 years, no common definition had been established. US DOE, last year, embarked on a process to evaluate current definitions and solicit industry input to formulate a common definition and nomenclature for zero energy buildings. This definition uses commonly available site measurements and national conversion factors to define zero energy buildings on a source energy basis for a variety of boundary conditions including building, portfolio, campus, and community. Issues addressed include multiple fuel types, cogeneration, and renewable energy certificates. This paper describes the process used to arrive at the definition, looks at methods of calculating site to source energy conversions, and how boundary decisions affect a robust and stable definition that can be used to direct programs and policies for many years to come. This stability is critical to move building investments towards buildings that produce as much energy as they consume.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages11
StatePublished - 2016
Event2016 ACEEE Summer Study on Energy Efficiency in Buildings - Pacific Grove, California
Duration: 21 Aug 201626 Aug 2016


Conference2016 ACEEE Summer Study on Energy Efficiency in Buildings
CityPacific Grove, California

Bibliographical note

Available from ACEEE: see

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/CP-5500-67080


  • building energy consumption
  • zero energy buildings


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