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December 28, 2023

Beyond Zero: Leading Through a Net Zero Strategy

It Ain’t Easy Being Green

Environmental discussions can sometimes feel routine, dismissive, and even obligatory. This is partly because responsible environmental management can be complicated to fully grasp. Additionally, regulations, code compliances, performance metrics, and technology are constantly changing. As Kermit the Frog once said, “It ain’t easy being green,” but few things are as important as taking care of our environment.

To better understand this complex topic, we’d like to share fundamentals that enact smarter, safer, and more sustainable practices. In this article, we’ll explore intelligent and cost-effective measures to achieve net zero energy when both a building’s design AND engineered systems are synchronized to yield sustainable results.

Feature > Benefit > Advantage

Strang is most fortunate to partner with perceptive, horizon-focused clients. Together, we place the highest priority on exploring potential net zero energy opportunities for every project.

The Strang team features a holistic and unbiased approach, recognizing that some structures and locations naturally lend themselves better to net zero energy designs. However, nearly every project stands to benefit from adopting a net zero energy perspective. Even integrating small net zero energy design elements can make a significant and measurable impact on your building’s environmental performance, both in the present and well into the future.

By working collaboratively and seizing the opportunity to optimize upcoming technologies, your journey toward intelligent energy utilization begins today, ensuring a sustainable advantage for the future.

American Family ERB Building - Remodel achieved LEED Gold

A Baseline of Understanding

For starters, let’s discuss net zero strategy which revolves around the importance of achieving decarbonization, also known as eliminating emissions that involve burning fossil fuels. The goal is to achieve a neutral carbon footprint that mitigates the impact of human activities on the Earth’s climate.

Buildings and their engineered systems are designed to reduce carbon dioxide emissions within built environments. This is accomplished by using low-to-no carbon power sources, substantially reducing greenhouse gas emissions released into the atmosphere. The drive towards decarbonization aims to transition energy consumption away from fossil fuels and towards zero-emissions electricity and other low-emissions energy carriers such as hydrogen. 

Attaining net zero doesn’t just hinge on cutting greenhouse gas emissions, it also involves actively removing carbon dioxide (CO2) from our atmosphere.

To achieve net zero, a building must first reduce its energy demand through fully integrated design strategies, including passive solar heating and cooling, natural ventilation, daylighting, insulation, high-performance windows, mechanical equipment, and supporting systems. Then, the remaining energy demand must be met by using on-site or off-site renewable energy sources, such as solar panels, wind turbines, geothermal heat pumps, or biomass boilers. In the end, net zero spaces will generate as much energy as they consume over a year by utilizing these renewable energy sources.

The net zero strategy baseline in definition is converting from carbon-intensive energy sources to clean alternatives. This strategy represents your commitment to mitigating a built environment’s carbon footprint immediately but also contributes to a more sustainable and resilient energy infrastructure.

Solar & Wind renewable energy sources

Renewable Energy Sources

Net zero buildings have a net balance of zero between their energy consumption and energy generation, which leads to minimizing their impact on our environment.

Net zero energy designs benefit not only the environment but also society and the economy. These building designs reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and increase our energy security and building resilience. Clients will benefit from saving money on energy bills and improving the health and comfort of building occupants.

Of course, there are certain challenges and barriers to achieving net zero energy. Clients must consider the availability and cost of renewable energy technologies, the variability of renewable energy sources, and the integration and compatibility of different energy systems. Additional expertise is needed to consider the regulations and policies of your local utilities, and governments, and the need for education and awareness regarding the building owners and occupants.

Rooftop chiller unit and solar panels from strang projects

We Are Moving Towards an All-Electric Future

Leveraging renewable energy technology such as solar and wind can reduce dependency on fossil fuels.

Currently, the most developed renewable energy technologies produce electricity. However, this leads to inherent challenges with a dependency on electrical energy needs. For example:

  • Assuming no integrated energy efficiency measures, a one-for-one replacement swapping fossil-fuel equipment with electrical equipment (e.g., HVAC equipment, water heaters) will increase utility costs.
  • Currently, the national grid cannot support an all-electric future for everyone. Energy efficiency measures must be introduced to reduce grid demand.
  • Energy efficiency measures and technologies will most certainly increase upfront costs in construction. Review your budget today to save for tomorrow to help ensure we have that tomorrow.

Conversely, these challenges could be offset by the integration of additional alternative energy strategies including mechanical, thermal, chemical, gravitational, nuclear, sound, and light energy sources. Our team can help you explore technologies that can be utilized in various applications.

ground source heat pumps/vertical bore geofield

What Makes Sense?

To offset how much electricity an all-electrical building requires, the Strang team closely evaluates opportunities for integration. Our thoroughly vetted decisions are supported with metrics i.e., utility industry data, federal/state energy statistics, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), and previous project experience to help guide our client’s path forward. For example:

  • Strang energy experts first consider site and building orientation, building envelope properties, daylight harvesting, and facility lighting, i.e., LED, controls, sensors, etc.
  • From there, our team looks closely at HVAC system strategies such as ground source heat pumps (vertical bore geofield), sometimes paired with thermal storage or hybrid systems for peak loads. Air source heat pumps are also evaluated at this time.
  • Next up are energy recovery systems such as ventilation recovery and heat recovery chillers for simultaneous heating/cooling needs.
  • Additional consideration aids in evaluating demand-based control strategies to include ventilation, fan/pump, and water/air resets.
  • ENERGY Star equipment and plug loads must also be evaluated within a client’s expected energy consumption.
  • Finally, on-site energy generation such as solar photo-voltaic and wind power are analyzed.

Help Is Available

Did you know? The Inflation Reduction Act extended a 30% tax credit until 2032. This means a business can reduce its federal tax liability by 30% of its total commercial solar installation costs. Focus on Energy offers and array of incentives including:

  • Solar incentive up to $50,000
  • Custom incentives up to $300,000 for renewable energy projects including biogas, biomass, solar thermal, and wind

Help is there if you know to look for it.

Experience The Difference

As designers, it is our very real responsibility to care for our planet and people by leading the conversation on designing buildings that optimize resource conservation. Strang’s creative solutions advance the well-being and sustainability commitment of our clients and the built environments we serve.

Accordingly, Design Synchronicity – our proprietary project development protocol – ensures that every project begins with a thorough analysis of our client’s resource conservation opportunities. With our client’s input, Strang designers, planners, and engineers create sustainable environments that “blend and balance” proven sustainable products and practices. Together, we create resourceful solutions, inclusive practices, and accountable results.

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