From Zero Energy Buildings to Zero Energy Districts

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


Some U.S. cities are planning advanced districts that have goals for zero energy, water, waste, and/or greenhouse gas emissions. From an energy perspective, zero energy districts present unique opportunities to cost-effectively achieve high levels of energy efficiency and renewable energy penetration across a collection of buildings that may be infeasible at the individual building scale. These high levels of performance are accomplished through district energy systems that harness renewable and wasted energy at large scales and flexible building loads that coordinate with variable renewable energy supply. Unfortunately, stakeholders face a lack of documented processes, tools, and best practices to assist them in achieving zero energy districts. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) is partnering on two new district projects in Denver: the National Western Center and the Sun Valley Neighborhood. We are working closely with project stakeholders in their zero energy master planning efforts to develop the resources needed to resolve barriers and create replicable processes to support future zero energy district efforts across the United States. Initial results of these efforts include the identification and description of key zero energy district design principles (maximizing building efficiency, solar potential, renewable thermal energy, and load control), economic drivers, and master planning principles. The work has also resulted in NREL making initial enhancements to the U.S. Department of Energy's open source building energy modeling platform (OpenStudio and EnergyPlus) with the long-term goal of supporting the design and optimization of energy districts.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages16
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-5500-66292


  • building energy
  • energy districts
  • zero energy buildings


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