The A, B, C, D of Net Zero Energy Building

Updated: Sep 19, 2020

Agility in the design process

Benign features in a Net Zero Energy Building

Creativity Coaching for Change and Challenge

Details in Design

#netzeroenergy #energyefficiency

Net Zero Energy building is one of the highest targets for a green building. A Net Zero Energy building is to produce renewable energy equal or more than the building energy consumed in a year. There are 4 classifications of net zero energy building, the most stringent classification is NZEB:A - A footprint renewables NZEB. This requires all the renewable energy to be generated from its own building footprint. Alternatively, projects may choose other paths, i.e., to have renewable energy within project site or import/purchase renewable energy.

Check out the article wrote by the author about a completed net zero energy building.

The type of renewable energy depends on what is available on the project site. Most projects we have seen are using photovoltaic (PV) panels. Some projects may be gifted with wind power, hydroelectricity, and biofuel.

As there is limited space within the building footprint, the higher the building goes, the more difficult it is to achieve Net Zero Energy Building. For example, there is a greater challenge for a building beyond 6 stories in a tropical climate running an air conditioning system during office hour.

The good news is that Net Zero Energy Building is achievable with the consideration of A, B, C, and D!

Agility in the design process

How many times you have heard:"design freeze", and how many times you have experienced the changes of design, making you feel frustrated or helpless? In the current design process, chasing the changes is common but tedious. Multiple rounds of design changes make it even more difficult to design a net zero energy building.

With the ultimate target to meet Net Zero Energy, projects must use the #agile method to constantly check the energy balance. The energy specialist must hold on tight to the design balance and verify the target of net zero energy with each design change that impacts energy performance. The team should also be able to provide quick feedback to verify the impact of change. Design with agility allows the team to design with the full awareness of the end result, throughout the whole design process.

Net zero energy building doesn't mean that there shouldn't be any change during the design process, but more importantly, the energy verification process should be simplified to avoid long delayed feedback, where an agility design process is the key to navigate through changes.

Benign features in a Net Zero Energy Building

A #greenbuilding has many showcasing features, and there are certainly more for a net zero energy building. What features are #benign to the environment? And what benign features should be used for a net zero energy building?

Hint: The answer should be something close to the natural environment.

When a building is targeting for net zero energy, it should fundamentally use the latest and most efficient technologies (e.g. LED lighting, high efficient air conditioning systems, good facade insulation/shading, energy efficient products like laptop and printer, sensor control to optimise the energy usage) to minimise the energy usage. But the energy consumption for this type of green building will still be too high, as there is limited renewable energy to be produced within the building footprint. This is normal. Otherwise, we will see that many green platinum certified buildings are net zero energy buildings.

The breakthrough point is to consider more benign features, which make the best use of the #NaturalEnvironment around you. In a #tropical climate, you have good sunlight and nature breeze; In tempered climate, you have spring and fall as the comfortable seasons; In cold climate, you may even turn off your freezer during winter, and enjoy your transition seasons under the comfortable natural condition. All these are considerations of the benign features. It helps to turn your design into a unique, ideal and optimized design. A net zero energy building should be a location and project specific design; it should be the best fit in a given condition!

Another consideration of the benign feature is to optimize the user's energy usage, which is mostly not controllable during the design stage. In green certifications like #LEED, Singapore #GreenMark, the consultant may choose to cap the plug load energy at 25% of the total baseline building energy (whichever is smaller). This is one of the reasons that consultants and clients are not paying much attention to the plug load for a green building. However, the plug load should not be ignored for a net zero energy building, as the actual energy usage of the plug load must be balanced by the renewable energy. The team must spend sufficient time managing the plug load target, introducing features to optimise but not compromising the user's need.

Creativity Coaching for Change and Challenge

The concept of #coaching is new to the building industry. Coaching #empowers the individual and brings #clarity to the goal and desire. During the building design stage, the team may plan the creativity coaching process as below:

Stage 1: Expand the mind towards the target

The goal is Net Zero Energy building. During the early project design phase, it must expand clients, designers and consultants' mind towards this common target. Expanding the mind includes aligning the goals and possibilities. During this stage, everybody should voice out their thoughts without any concern or limitation. Don't be surprised that the best idea may come from a junior engineer or even an intern.

Stage 2: Clarify the concerns, doubts or fear in the team

It's normal to see concerns when a new idea is presented, because professionals must think about how to implement ideas base on the conventional knowledge. The 2nd stage is a platform to allow the professionals list down limitations and restrictions they have when implementing ideas. Remember, the goal is not to "kill" any idea, but rather to set the boundaries base on the professional knowledge.

Stage 3: Challenge and Change


The fun and painful part is stage 3, when the team needs to acknowledge where to set the boundaries, and what ideas can be implemented within the capacity.

Change is challenging, and the most important part of a net zero energy building is to challenge the conventional design. After a creativity coaching process, the team should be more aware of what is possible, and how to make it possible.

Stage 4: Reality, critics and design integration

After the above stages, the team may proceed with the normal workshop and design charrette to work on the design and implementation. One key for stage 4 is: open mindset, integration, and never work in a silo.

Details in Design

One thing we would like to highlight to the team is to pay attention to the details in design. Details are crucial for a net zero energy building. Engineers may oversize systems and create a bigger buffer in conventional design, because there are lots of unknown or future unexpected activities in a building. However, this should not be so for a net zero energy building because oversizing or creating more buffer will cause more uncertainty to achieve the target. Setting an unrealistic buffer will also limit the design to take a bigger challenge. Aside from the detail energy tabulation, the team may set aside a clearly defined buffer to allow future changes or unexpected loads.

The team should expect to see every energy consuming equipment listed in the list, and every possible building performance scenario considered. Only in such details, the team can be confident to proceed with the design target of Net Zero Energy Building.

This article is produced with first-hand experience of designing a net zero energy building. For more information, please contact:

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