We are reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission.
Climate has become a significant focus for consumers and industry leaders worldwide. Humans have negatively impacted the planet by consuming high amounts of energy and emitting dangerous greenhouse gases (GHGs). So, what’s the solution? One answer is to construct more net zero energy buildings across the globe.
Industry leaders have demonstrated the impact of these buildings, so let’s look at these facilities and see why they’re vital to the future of construction.
What Are Net-Zero Energy Buildings?
Net-zero energy buildings produce as much or more than the energy they consume annually. You can find net-zero energy buildings worldwide, and each facility differs based on the area’s climate and needs. For example, a building in Norway may focus more on efficient heating. In contrast, a skyscraper near the equator wants to keep its offices cool in the hot and humid summers.
Net-zero energy buildings are crucial to the planet because of population growth, climate change and energy demands. The world’s population crossed 8 billion in 2022, so more people are straining the grid.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) says energy demand has increased, but the growth has slowed due to more sustainable energy trends. For example, experts say more countries are gravitating toward renewable and low-carbon energy and away from fossil fuels as the drawbacks of oil and gas have become apparent.
Most buildings rely on the electrical grid for power generation, but net-zero energy structures differ because they can produce energy with solar panels, wind turbines and other sources. Therefore, they increase their energy independence and are less vulnerable to supply chain disruptions, global conflict and more.
The Best Net-Zero Energy Building Examples
You can find net-zero energy buildings from Maryland to Madrid and everywhere in between. Here are five examples of buildings standing tall amongst the competition.
First, head to the Unisphere in Silver Spring, Maryland. Just north of Washington, D.C., this development is six stories and boasts being the largest net-zero building in the world. The Unisphere is 210,000 square feet with 3,000 solar panels to generate power.
Despite its size, the Unisphere efficiently powers itself through daylight harvesting and stays cool through natural ventilation systems. For example, below the building is a foundation system using thermal mass to warm the facility and an atrium pool as a heat sink for cooling.
The Unisphere is a model for sustainable commercial development because it sends power back to the electrical grid during peak hours and draws during off-peak times to help the community.
National University of Singapore
South Singapore is home to the National University of Singapore, one of the world’s leading institutions for clean energy research. The university’s School of Design and Environment operates in a building that has net-zero energy consumption. At six stories high, the facility has overhanging roofs for shade and solar panels to convert sunlight into electricity.
Singapore is about 85 miles from the equator, giving it a year-round hot and humid climate. The energy demand is high in the densely populated area, so the National University’s net-zero energy building exemplifies how the city-state makes itself smart and environmentally conscious.
You would think a facility inside a hot climate would need maximum insulation to trap the cool air. However, the university’s net-zero energy building has a hybrid cooling system with an open architecture around the structure. The unique roofs prevent heat from making the building too hot while allowing ample natural light to enter. The school boasts over 1,200 solar panels to power the facility and keep it net-positive all year.
The Bullitt Center
Travel a few blocks northeast of Seattle University in Washington to find the Bullitt Center, a commercial office building celebrating its 10th anniversary in 2023. The Bullitt Center is one of the most sustainable structures on the West Coast, supporting Seattle’s sustainability goals. The Emerald City aims to become carbon neutral by 2050, and the Bullitt Center positively contributes to this goal.
The Bullitt Center has 575 solar panels to ensure the building produces more energy than it consumes. The builders kept Seattle’s rainy climate in mind. Hence, the Bullitt Center optimizes energy harnessing in the summer while drawing power in the winter. The seasons combine for an energy surplus at the end of the year.
Walking around the building, you’ll notice the builders implemented as many sustainable details as possible. For example, the Bullitt Center uses a regenerative elevator that captures energy as it slows down — similar to regenerative braking in electric vehicles (EVs). The building also has irresistible stairs at the front entrance to promote stairclimbing and conserve electricity.
Net-zero energy buildings continue to arise worldwide as more developers learn how to construct these facilities. The Forge in London, United Kingdom, celebrated its grand opening in April. It is an office development in the Southwark district of London, only a couple blocks from the River Thames.
The Forge is a pillar of sustainability in England through its energy conservation and rainwater harvesting. London, like Seattle, is a city famous for its rainy days. The United Kingdom experienced nearly 150 days of rain in 2021, allowing a fruitful rainwater collection system at the Forge.
The rainy climate is ideal for the Forge’s green roof with vegetation and cooling abilities. Over 100 solar panels onsite produce enough energy for the building, reducing its dependence on London’s electrical grid.
You don’t have to travel far from the Forge to the Edge, a sustainable office building in Amsterdam, Netherlands. The Edge is one of the most sustainable buildings in the world, using 70% less electricity than facilities of the same size.
The Edge’s energy conservation starts with solar panels facing south to maximize sunlight in the winter. The north-facing part of the building allows ample daylight to illuminate the building without overheating in the summer.
Energy use is not an issue with smart lighting throughout. Thirty-thousand sensors fill the building to detect temperature, humidity, movement and more. Considering these factors, the facility can adjust its temperature and lighting to accommodate comfort.
How Can You Create a Net-Zero Energy Building?
Are you interested in making a net-zero energy building? You can construct a new building or retrofit an existing structure to increase energy efficiency substantially. These three strategies will help your sustainability journey.
Energy production is a significant part of net-zero energy. You need to generate more power than you consume, so finding renewable energy generation is an excellent place to start.
Solar panels are your best bet nowadays, considering their availability and affordability. The average solar panel price has decreased by about 60% compared to just a decade ago. This technology is best if you live in a sunny area like Phoenix, Arizona.
Getting to net-zero energy means increasing energy production and reducing consumption. Swap your existing appliances for energy-efficient devices. A terrific place to start is your HVAC unit because of how much energy it consumes in the summer and winter. Minimizing your HVAC use will lead you toward a passive house.
Upgrading your appliances is a wonderful start, but how do you keep track of your house’s energy consumption? One solution is to install a smart meter in your home. This device identifies where your energy consumption is highest and what you can do about it. Smart meters are also helpful for giving accurate estimates for utility bills, helping you prepare financially every month.
Promoting Energy Efficiency Worldwide
Climate change isn’t unique to one city, country or continent — it’s happening worldwide. Global temperatures rising means the planet must prepare for more sweltering heat in the summer. How can you fortify your house or office? Many are turning to net-zero energy buildings. These five facilities demonstrate human ingenuity worldwide to increase energy independence and promote renewable power generation.