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Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Net-Zero Energy Buildings: Attainable or Not?

"A zero-energy building, also known as a zero net energy (ZNE) building, net-zero energy building (NZEB), or net zero building, is a building with zero net energy consumption, meaning the total amount of energy used by the building on an annual basis is roughly equal to the amount of renewable energy created on the site, or in other definitions by renewable energy sources elsewhere. These buildings consequently contribute less overall greenhouse gas to the atmosphere than similar non-ZNE buildings. They do at times consume non-renewable energy and produce greenhouse gases, but at other times reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas production elsewhere by the same amount." - Wikipedia
Theewaterskloof Dam level at 15.7% as of 2017/05/08: A major component of the Western Cape Water Supply System

As with everything in life, we will always have two opposing sides when it comes to opinions. In this case, if we look at Net-Zero Energy Buildings, you will have people, professionals, and academics vehemently advocating Zero Net Energy Buildings for the numerous long-term benefits it has (Guess in which camp I am), while the other side will vehemently argue that the initial capital expenditure is way too high, that the payback period is way too long, that the client will always look for the cheapest design and construction costs, etc. etc. – Hence designing Net Zero Energy Buildings may not be worth the effort.

My opinion is that we have no other choice but to change our mindsets and design for zero energy consumption. What do I mean by we? Simply put, everyone: We need the buy in from the average Joe and Jill on the street, from professionals working in the industry, from professional bodies and government institutions, and most importantly, from our private and corporate clients.
"In 1896 the Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius published a new idea. As humanity burned fossil fuels such as coal, which added carbon dioxide gas to the Earth’s atmosphere, we would raise the planet’s average temperature. This “greenhouse effect” was only one of many speculations about climate change, however, and not the most plausible. Scientists found technical reasons to argue that our emissions could not change the climate. Indeed most thought it was obvious that puny humanity could never affect the vast climate cycles, which were governed by a benign “balance of nature.” In any case major change seemed impossible except over tens of thousands of years." - Scientific American

The Internet is literally littered with famous quotes on incorrect predictions about technology and the effects thereof. Someone once said, "There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in his home". The same someone claimed that what he said was taken out of context: "...he was not referring to personal computers but to a household computer that would control the home". Ouch.... #IOT.

Will we be also be quoted on incorrect predictions in future? "Global warming is just a weather pattern which will pass"

We need to stop looking at the now and start looking at the future. Imagine if Orville and Wilbur Wright never bothered inventing the airplane - 'Because humans were not meant to fly'; 'It would be too expensive'; or 'Who actually wants to fly halfway around the world - That's what ships are there for!'

The aim of this post is not to try and convince you to become a Green Warrior. Nor is it to recruit you to join environmental organisations. The aim is to have you look past the daily challenges you face, like budgets, payback periods, etc., and start thinking about your entire design process. How can you overcome these daily challenges. How can you make a change through doing what you do best? Are you designing for yourself, or designing for future generations? If there are no future generations, who will appreciate the space you have created?

David Thorne believes that The Internet is a Playground. There are thousands of articles on, let's call it the "human effect" but sifting through the truths, half-truths, and outright lies can take quite a long time (Ever tried to YouTube Revit tutorials? You'll know what I mean!).

However, if you are in the business of design and would like more information on designing for the future, I invite you to register for the Building Performance Analysis Certificate through Autodesk's Sustainabilty Workshop website. It's a online, for free and even after 4 years since I completed the course, I still remain as passionate as I was then about making a change in whatever way I can.

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