The Future of Zero Energy Buildings: Produce, Respond, Regenerate: Preprint

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


The zero energy buildings concept is more than 20 years old, and the paradigm shift from buildings as energy consumers to buildings as energy producers is underway. Buildings also consume land and material resources, however, with attendant environmental impacts. Another paradigm is emerging: a built environment that produces energy and is environmentally responsive and regenerative. This paper investigates an updated framework for thinking about zero energy buildings that includes discussions of prioritizing renewables; determining on-site versus off-site generation; exploring how and when buildings should use energy; and balancing renewables, storage, and energy efficiency. Buildings are typically connected to the utility grid and the utility grid develops largely in response to the built environment. If more buildings’ real time electricity use aligned with renewable generation, more renewables would be added to the grid. Ultimately, the goal for zero energy buildings will be to use 100% renewables, 100% of the time, matching loads with energy storage and renewable generation at each discrete timestep over a year. This target is beyond the current zero energy definitions, which focus on an annual balance of renewable supply and energy demand and use the grid to “store” excess production to make up for hours without sufficient on-site renewable generation. This paper expands this upgraded concept and outlines simple metrics to evaluate the alignment of renewable sources and storage with building loads. This process can provide insights on building design considerations, including the use of flexible loads and optimal resource management.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages19
StatePublished - 2020
Event2020 ACEEE Summer Study on Energy Efficiency in Buildings -
Duration: 17 Aug 202021 Aug 2020


Conference2020 ACEEE Summer Study on Energy Efficiency in Buildings

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/CP-5500-77415


  • energy definitions
  • net zero energy
  • zero energy
  • zero net energy


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