New San Diego Office Building Exposes the Fallacy of the Net-Zero Label
The obstacles to creating a "true net-zero building, one that literally generates as much or more energy than it consumes," are substantial. So it should come as a positive sign that one of the country's largest names in development is constructing a run-of-the-mill Class A office building to such stringent standards, right?
It turns out the building is only modestly better than a normal modern Class A building on the energy demand side. It achieves its energy neutrality by using fuel cells from Bloom Energy that run on natural gas from carbon-neutral sources.
"Huh? Burning gas generated from carbon-neutral sources makes it net-zero-energy?" asks Alter. "Apparently yes. Reading the National Renewable Energy Laboratory's Net Zero Energy Buildings: A Classification System Based on Renewable Energy Supply Options [PDF], one finds that there is a hierarchy of categories and options, the last being Purchasing offsite renewable resources."
"The actual building is no more Net-Zero Energy than my big drafty old house," exclaims Alter. "Readers will no doubt complain that once again I am letting the perfect be the enemy of the good, that this is a step in the right direction. It is; the building is more efficient than most, and Bloom Boxes may be slightly greener than getting electricity from the typical California energy mix."
"But calling it Net-Zero energy is a joke."