Net-Zero Energy Buildings (Final Part)

On last articles we generally explained what a zero-energy home was, but just to remind that these new buildings will come into force in Spain in the year 2020 and in UK in 2016.


Today 13th of March of 2014 here in Spain, as I am writing this article, it comes into force a new regulation for energy savings in buildings which greatly increases the specifications for newly design buildings and brings closer the concept of zero-energy buildings.


Where on earth are these buildings being built now days? 


Well, for us architects it is important to study these buildings so as to learn how they are design and built as there is little information around.

We examined some examples in Europe and United States last week but there are also some examples in Asia.

For its part, the Asian continent can also provide spectacular examples. In the southern China city of Guangzhou, the Skidmore Owings Merrill Company plans to finish a 69-storey office skyscraper based on the principles of zero energy. And in Malaysia, Ruslan Associates Khalid opened as long ago as October, 2007 the office of energy zero (ZEO), the office for Pusat Tenaga Malaysia (PTM), a non-profit company building promoted by the Ministry of energy in this country.

A good example here in Spain.

The city of the innovation of Navarra, a technological park near Pamplona, inaugurated some years ago the new headquarters of the company Acciona Solar. According to the people responsible for this building, is the first office building in Spain certified as zero emissions.

The headquarters, has an area of 2.591 m2, it is designed so that it incorporates passive systems of energy efficiency and renewable energy using four technologies (solar photovoltaic, solar thermal, geothermal and biodiesel).

But what are the advantages and disadvantages?

Supporter for the zero-energy buildings list several advantages, mainly of interest to the pockets of the users. The energy systems incorporated into these efficient houses greatly reduce the energy expenditure in light, hot water and air conditioning, but ensuring the daily comfort of its occupants.

Also, as they produce and consume only renewable energy, their owners do not have to worry about potential swings in the prices of energy, nor of the scarcity of fossil fuels. In addition, these houses are built of great quality materials, so the systems are guaranteed to operate for decades.

Also, the awareness by consumers and institutions, are increasingly calling for these ecological housing, and thus allow a greater generalization of these systems. In this sense, future legislation will force dwellings to be greener, so conventional buildings should introduce such improvements with consequent cost reduction, something that should no longer assume those of zero energy. Therefore, some experts suggest that having this type of housing is going to be getting more interesting for the real estate market.

And the disadvantages are....

However, building zero buildings also raises a series of problems that must be taken into account. One of its main drawbacks is that the use of these technologies, especially renewable energy installation, often involves higher initial construction costs with respect to conventional buildings. For example, the English buildings of the District of Oxley Wood cost almost three times more than a conventional home.

It is also difficult to find specialists in this type of construction. However, it is true to say that prospects in the medium term is that this type of technology will spread and improve, reducing their costs, something that can be an advantage for this type of housing in the future, but a problem for the current ones. These facts alone will make them harder to sell.

The best of these buildings is that they may be self-sufficient, without being connected to the electrical grid. However, to achieve this, it will require a large initial investment which currently needs to be subsidized to carry them out. At the moment, architects often connect the properties to the network to respond for any fluctuations in demand for heat or electricity.

Finally, just to end up on this subject, I think that governments have already decided for us at the EEC and the coming legislation will force us to design these zero energy buildings whether we like it or not.

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