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Path to Net-Zero Energy Homes

A Step-up Approach to Transform the Housing Market

With the R-2000 level fast becoming the code-built energy requirement for homes in many jurisdictions, there is a need to take energy efficiency to the next level, and make net-zero energy homes a reality. A net-zero energy home produces as much energy as it uses on an annual basis, and in turn accounts for all of the energy used, including energy used for space heating, hot water, ventilation, air conditioning, appliances, lighting, and all household electrical consumption.

Integrated approaches to achieving net-zero energy performance levels are being demonstrated in the EQuilibrium™ homes. Builders and consumers are increasingly interested in pursuing net-zero housing opportunities, and many are looking to implement advanced net-zero concepts into their production homes. In the process though, they are discovering economic, technical and market stumbling blocks to achieving higher energy-efficiency goals in a single step, and the need for a more gradual approach to achieve the net-zero goal.

The "Path to Net Zero" Project

The 'Path to Net Zero' project is part of a four-year study, led by Natural Resources Canada (NRCan), to develop a framework and methodology for regionally sensitive construction recommendations. These recommendations are aimed at gradually improving the energy efficiency of homes toward net-zero. The first study was conducted in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), in collaboration with builders who provided real costs and identified unique challenges. The next phase of builder supported studies were conducted in Nova Scotia and for the Eastern and Northern Ontario housing markets.

Using archetype home designs developed by NRCan, the project measures current fuel rates to estimate fuel costs over time, and examines a variety of variables—including building envelope and space conditioning/water heating alternatives—related to implementing energy-efficient building solutions in a more cost effective manner. The regional studies demonstrated the “real” cost of implementing energy conservation measures, advanced mechanical systems and renewable energy technology to reduce whole house energy consumption incrementally, by 25-50-75% and ultimately 100% (Net Zero) on an annual basis. The project also looks at the effects of different solutions on energy use, fuel use, load management and renewable energy, and helps to develop cost-optimization analyses for 10 and 20 years. It uses the Net Present Value (NPV) to compare the attractiveness of investment options by examining all negative and positive cash flows that differ for various energy efficiency levels.

To date, the project has produced a range of findings related to building envelopes, space conditioning and water heating, including financial and market analyses. It acknowledges that the economics of future energy costs will play a large part in determining both the need and the ability of builders to successfully deliver improvements and new technologies.

Additional analyses will be carried out in other regions , and future research is expected to include sensitivity analysis and stochastic modelling for cost of capital and fuel costs to provide a more sophisticated analysis of ROI.

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