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DOE’s New Zero-Emissions Building Definition

The Department of Energy has released a National Definition of a Zero-Emissions Building. This definition is Part 1 of a series that will be released in the future and aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from buildings. This definition is not regulatory but designed to guide jurisdictions to create their own green building and energy efficiency standards that will help the U.S. reach emission reduction targets.

The definition includes three criteria for a building to achieve zero operational emissions from energy use: 

1. Energy efficient: The building must be highly efficient. The DOE definition heavily refers to ENERGY STAR scores to determine a building’s energy efficiency. ENERGY STAR is a voluntary system recognized throughout the Country as the standard for energy-efficient buildings. California’s Energy Code requirements are often as efficient (or more efficient) than ENERGY STAR. Therefore, many of California’s buildings will already fit this guideline.

2. Free of on-site emissions from energy use: The building’s direct GHG (Green House Gas) emissions from energy use must equal zero. Zero-emission appliances must be electric to meet this requirement, and heat pumps will be the standard needed to meet those ENERGY STAR efficiency standards.

3. Powered solely from clean energy: All the energy used by the building, both on-site and off-site, is from clean energy sources. Nationwide electricity grids will have to step up their clean energy production from sources like wind and solar PV to meet this demand.

EFCA’s Opinion: As an agency that has ALWAYS stood for energy efficiency, EFCA is pleased to see that the DOE definition includes efficiency first. The cheapest and cleanest energy will always be the energy that is never used, and building energy efficiency is the only way to make that happen.