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Knowledge Diversity Key Part of Zero Emissions Energy Initiative

Jenita  |  04/11/11 @ 4:33pm

The members of the Zero Emissions Energy Initiative have some audacious, bold, and sustainable goals. They intend to create a zero energy building for building owners in the next two years.  The working group formed after the 2010 Summit because one small group was interested in creating Net Zero buildings and another small group wanted to create buildings that created zero emissions. The two groups decided to merge their strengths and creative energies. How do you create a building that uses only the energy it creates-or less? Don Rerko a working group member and Director of Higher Education & Healthcare for KA Architects gave the basics.

"First by achieving radical energy efficiency and then making up the difference on-site with renewable energy," Rerko said. "By super insulating you get the amount of energy to the lowest level possible, and only then provide alternative systems to create energy needed."

 Zero Emissions Energy Initiative members envision a future Cleveland with whole neighborhoods of net zero houses where geothermal serves multiple houses and micro-grids exist on a neighborhood scale that can even share energy among neighborhoods as needed.  Creating these types of buildings in Cleveland and Northeast Ohio would put the region on the forefront of what they see as an inevitable change in how buildings function.

" The Department of Energy is pushing this fairly hard and the American Institute of Architects adopted a goal a couple of years ago that all new buildings should be net zero energy by the year 2030," Rerko said.

The goals of this working group are truly sustainable in that they are considering the economy, the environment and social equity. They want to create buildings that are cost efficient to build; that stabilize energy prices for those who use them; and they want to create buildings that produce no carbon emissions.

"From a societal viewpoint, people wouldn't pay an energy bill. They can take the money and put it into construction in lieu of paying for energy costs. They can have better houses and more efficient houses and they wouldn't have to worry about spikes and fluctuations in energy costs," Dave Simons, a working group member, said.

"People paying the most for energy usually have least amount of money. One of the things net zero could do is to reduce the cost for people who are struggling the most," Rerko Said.

Rerko, Simons and Kathleen Dorsey, a third founding member, agreed that the energy and drive of this working group comes from the diversity of the knowledge bases of the professional volunteers who created it and have joined since its inception.

"There are so many people with so many different ideas and every time we talk to someone else, they want to be involved. It is interesting to hear how much is already going on in this area," Rerko said. "We have NASA scientists, developers, engineers, contractors, people with retail knowledge, residential knowledge and more." 

Simons refers to the values underpinning the group's work as "moral-technical principles" and he lists carbon neutrality, resolving global warming, clean air, clean water, avoiding mining damage , fossil fuel extraction, reduction in resource conflicts and American energy independence as some of the values the group upholds.  Another value of the working group is to create systems that give true, feasible paybacks. Rerko said that many systems have a 50 year return on investment which is not sustainable.

2011 is the Year of Energy Efficiency in Cleveland and there is much to celebrate already for the Net Zero Emissions Initiative. The group has identified two potential building projects-one residential and one commercial-that they plan to be involved with to make them net zero at no additional cost to build. They are also interested in taking part in the Cleveland Museum of Art's upcoming Climate Change Exhibit and the plans to build a Passive House at University Circle. Passive homes demonstrate radical energy efficiency, a key component of net zero buildings.  Eventually the working group hopes to create a guide for people in Northeast Ohio containing specific information about how to achieve net zero buildings.

"We would like to motivate and enlighten the building and energy communities as to what can be done and how to do it," Simons said.

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