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Is Net-Zero Building Realistic on a Large Scale?



building by jtkunley via stock xchng

Exploding global population numbers and worries about escalating energy prices, climate change, and energy independence have shifted many experts’ focus on a major source of our power drains – buildings.  In fact, statistics from the U.S. Department of Energy show that our nation’s buildings are our primary energy consumer.  By looking at ways to decrease energy consumption through design, construction, and operation of buildings, this major sector can significantly reduce energy use.  The most efficient way to do this is through a concept known as Net Zero Energy Building (NZEB), which is gaining attention and momentum worldwide.

What is Net-Zero Energy Building?

Net Zero refers to a “zero energy” or “net zero energy” building in which a structure produces as much energy as it consumes annually.  The standards as to what constitutes a NZEB in the U.S. were developed by the Department of Energy and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). The NREL published a guide that explores these definitions in detail and suggests that projects can reach net zero through several metrics that include site energy, energy costs, source energy, and energy emissions.

Existing Net-Zero Projects

While some net-zero homes have been a reality for several years, it’s the commercial projects and communities that are getting the most attention as they will have a profound impact over time.   The nation’s largest net-zero commercial building is located in Greater Los Angeles and was dedicated in June 2016.   This 144,000 square-foot building will serve as both a living laboratory and demonstration center to showcase energy-efficient design techniques and clean energy technologies.

A net-zero community called New Rainier Vista was just completed in Seattle, WA that consists of 42 sustainable, green homes.  The homes are arranged in clusters of four that sit around a central garden.  Each rooftop is prepared for the installation of solar panels, has triple-glazed windows, and double-framed walls.  Many of the materials used are recycled, and the units also have tankless water heaters.

The Net-Zero Cities of the Future

Now that we know how to construct net-zero buildings, the next move is towards entire towns and cities.  Perhaps a lofty goal but some communities are well on their way towards its achievement.  Sacramento, CA currently has the most net-zero buildings of any city in the country.  Despite this, the California state capital would have a long way to travel to reach total net-zero status as a city.  However, the small community of Cambridge, MA is working on total net-zero zoning as a city.  This is a long-term project that calls for a 70 percent reduction in building emissions by 2040.

Challenge of Building Net-Zero Communities

Despite the benefits, building a net-zero building or community isn’t cheap.  In fact, economic constraints led Masdar in Abu Dhabi to scale back some of its net-zero ambitions.  However, advances in technology are making some of these ultra-efficient systems more attainable, and this will help with future net-zero building projects.   The cost of the systems isn’t the only barrier to the communities, but also the complexity of their designs.  Most net-zero projects are beyond the realm of the expertise of a single architect with an auto-CAD program.  Rather, these projects require massive levels of collaboration between designers, engineers, and materials specialists.

As technology and design techniques continue to improve, the net-zero movement is expected to pick up pace.  While cost is a current challenge with these projects, further advances in coming years should make many of these solutions more attainable for both small and large-scale net-zero projects.



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Is Wood Burning Sustainable For Your Home?



sustainable wood burning ideas

Wood is a classic heat source, whether we think about people gathered around a campfire or wood stoves in old cabins, but is it a sustainable source of heat in modern society? The answer is an ambivalent one. In certain settings, wood heat is an ideal solution, but for the majority of homes, it isn’t especially suitable. So what’s the tipping point?

Wood heat is ideal for small homes on large properties, for individuals who can gather their own wood, and who have modern wood burning ovens. A green approach to wood heat is one of biofuel on the smallest of scales.

Is Biofuel Green?

One of the reasons that wood heat is a source of so much divide in the eco-friendly community is that it’s a renewable resource and renewable has become synonymous with green. What wood heat isn’t, though, is clean or healthy. It lets off a significant amount of carbon and particulates, and trees certainly don’t grow as quickly as it’s consumed for heat.

Of course, wood is a much less harmful source of heat than coal, but for scientists interested in developing green energy sources, it makes more sense to focus on solar and wind power. Why, then, would they invest in improved wood burning technology?

Homegrown Technology

Solar and wind technology are good large-scale energy solutions, but when it comes to small-space heating, wood has its own advantages. First, wood heat is in keeping with the DIY spirit of homesteaders and tiny house enthusiasts. These individuals are more likely to be driven to gather their own wood and live in small spaces that can be effectively heated as such.

Wood heat is also very effective on an individual scale because it requires very little infrastructure. Modern wood stoves made of steel rather than cast iron are built to EPA specifications, and the only additional necessary tools include a quality axe, somewhere to store the wood, and an appropriate covering to keep it dry. And all the wood can come from your own land.

Wood heat is also ideal for people living off the grid or in cold areas prone to frequent power outages, as it’s constantly reliable. Even if the power goes out, you know that you’ll be able to turn up the heat. That’s important if you live somewhere like Maine where the winters can get exceedingly cold. People have even successfully heated a 40’x34’ home with a single stove.

Benefits Of Biomass

The ultimate question regarding wood heat is whether any energy source that’s dangerous on the large scale is acceptable on a smaller one. For now, the best answer is that with a growing population and limited progress towards “pure” green energy, wood should remain a viable option, specifically because it’s used on a limited scale. Biomass heat is even included in the UK’s Renewable Heat Initiative and minor modifications can make it even more sustainable.

Wood stoves, when embraced in conjunction with pellet stoves, geothermal heating, and masonry heaters, all more efficient forms of sustainable heat, should be part of a modern energy strategy. Ultimately, we’re headed in the direction of diversified energy – all of it cleaner – and wood has a place in the big picture, serving small homes and off-the-grid structures, while solar, wind, and other large-scale initiatives fuel our cities.

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7 Benefits You Should Consider Giving Your Energy Employees



As an energy startup, you’re always looking to offer the most competitive packages to entice top-tier talent. This can be tough, especially when trying to put something together that’s both affordable but also has perks that employees are after.

After all, this is an incredibly competitive field and one that’s constantly doing what it can to stay ahead. However, that’s why I’m bringing you a few helpful benefits that could be what bolsters you ahead of your competition. Check them out below:

Financial Advising

One benefit commonly overlooked by companies is offering your employees financial advising services, which could help them tremendously in planning for their long-term goals with your firm. This includes anything from budgeting and savings plans to recommendations for credit repair services and investments. Try to take a look at if your energy company could bring on an extra person or two specifically for this role, as it will pay off tremendously regarding retention and employee happiness.

Life Insurance

While often included in a lot of health benefits packages, offering your employees life insurance could be an excellent addition to your current perks. Although seldom used, life insurance is a small sign that shows you care about the life of their family beyond just office hours. Additionally, at such a low cost, this is a pretty simple aspect to add to your packages. Try contacting some brokers or insurance agents to see if you can find a policy that’s right for your firm.

Dedicated Time To Enjoy Their Hobbies

Although something seen more often in startups in Silicon Valley, having dedicated office time for employees to enjoy their passions is something that has shown great results. Whether it be learning the piano or taking on building a video game, having your team spend some time on the things they truly enjoy can translate to increased productivity. Why? Because giving them the ability to better themselves, they’ll in turn bring that to their work as well.

The Ability To Work Remotely

It’s no secret that a lot of employers despise the idea of letting their employees work remotely. However, it’s actually proven to hold some amazing benefits. According to Global Workplace Analytics, 95% of employers that allow their employees to telework reported an increased rate of retention, saving on both turnover and sick days. Depending on the needs of each individual role, this can be a strategy to implement either whenever your team wants or on assigned days. Either way, this is one perk almost everyone will love.

Health Insurance

Even though it’s mandated for companies with over 50 employees, offering health insurance regardless is arguably a benefit well received across the board. In fact, as noted in research compiled by KFF, 28.6% of employers with less than 50 people still offered health care. Why is that the case? Because it shows you care about their well-being, and know that a healthy employee is one that doesn’t have to worry about astronomical medical bills.

Unlimited Time Off

This is a perk that almost no employer offers but should be regarded as something to consider. According to The Washington Post, only 1-2% of companies offer unlimited vacation, which it’s easy to see why. A true “unlimited vacation” program could be a firm’s worse nightmare, with employees skipping out every other week to enjoy themselves. However, with the right model in place that rewards hard work with days off, your employees will absolutely adore this policy.

A Full Pantry

Finally, having a pantry full of food can be one perk that’s not only relatively inexpensive but also adds to the value of the workplace. As noted by USA Today, when surveying employees who had snacks versus those who didn’t, 67% of those who did reported they were “very happy” with their work life. You’d be surprised at how much of a difference this could make, especially when considering the price point. Consider adding a kitchen to your office if you haven’t already, and always keep the snacks and drinks everyone wants fully stocked. Doing so will increase morale tremendously.

Final Thoughts

Compiling a great package for your energy company is going to take some time in looking at what you can afford versus what’s the most you can offer. While it might mean cutting back in other areas, having a workforce that feels like you genuinely want to take care of them can take you far. And with so many different benefits to include in your energy company’s package, which one is your favorite? Comment with your answers below!

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