An emerging option when attempting to tackle carbon emissions while cutting operational costs on the commercial, residential and industrial level is Net-Zero Energy construction. Net-Zero Energy (NZE) buildings can come in all forms, as the only criteria in a building becoming Net-Zero is that they create as much energy as they consume. This requires an on-site renewable energy generation system, such as solar PV, solar thermal, wind, geo-thermal, biomass, or micro-hydro and often incorporate sustainable design and energy efficient engineering practices in order to minimize the energy load required for the building to perform optimally.
Net-Zero buildings are designed with the function of reducing energy-related costs and are guided by three fundamental principles: energy conservation, energy recovery, and energy generation. Although energy generation is crucial in achieving net zero status, the facility must also be designed with energy conservation in mind, and must be installed with energy efficient technology. This is typically achieved through constructing the building with an emphasis on the building’s envelope and insulation, energy management technologies, heat recovery options, high-efficient HVAC systems and lighting technologies.
3D Energy and Vital Engineering played an integral role in the design and construction of the Brentwood Apartment Complex, which is a 29-unit energy efficient apartment blow for low-income families and individuals in Edmonton, Alberta. This space utilizes a hybrid geothermal and solar thermal system that enables the facility to have no natural gas hookup. The geothermal system provides all the space heating, while the solar thermal system provides 70% of the buildings hot water load. In order to ensure that no natural gas heating is ever required, this building required complex mechanical design strategies that maximize the efficiency of the buildings heating system, as well as several energy efficient design strategies.
The strategies engineered by our team started with an air-tight building envelope complete with large triple-glazed south-facing windows, which maximize passive solar gains and minimize heat loss within the building. The envelope is complimented by low flow fixtures which limit the hot water load, as well as low-temperature radiators which efficiently heat the space while the flat-plate solar thermal collectors provide the domestic hot water heating. Excess hot water is created in the summer, which is then circulated through the geothermal bore field to improve the efficiency of the geothermal system.
This apartment complex illustrates the approach necessary in achieving NZE buildings. There is no silver bullet solution in the sustainable building design industry to reducing operational costs and emissions in a cost effective way, therefore a multi-pronged design approach that includes renewable energy design, energy efficient and energy management strategies, as well as advanced civil, electrical, and mechanical engineering techniques. This requires a cross-industry collaboration design approach that Vital Engineering and 3D Energy were proud to have worked on.