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Building Below Zero: The Net Zero Plus Transformation

Thank you PBS for spreading the word – net zero buildings are front and center now. American public TV station PBS recently aired “Building Below Zero: The Net Zero Plus Transformation,” a documentary written, produced and directed by Jim Jackson. Actor and environmentalist Ted Danson narrates this examination of moving beyond net zero to net zero plus, buildings that produce and store more energy than they consume.

“Building Below Zero: The Net Zero Plus Transformation,” a documentary written, produced and directed by Jim Jackson. (Image courtesy PBS)

“Building Below Zero: The Net Zero Plus Transformation,” a documentary written, produced and directed by Jim Jackson. (Image courtesy PBS)

Climate specialists, sustainability specialists, and representatives from the federal, state and city governments are interviewed in the documentary. While the US Department of Defense and Department of Energy strive to increase the use of renewable energy to power their properties, the state of California has already set in place state laws to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. As one of the most forward-thinking states, it is required to achieve carbon emissions of 40% below 1990 level by 2030 and 80% below 1990 level by 2050, consequently needing to source 50% of its energy output from renewable energy by 2030. Additionally, the state is requiring 50% of the existing buildings to be net zero energy by 2030 and all new buildings to be net zero energy by 2030.

 An aerial view of the net zero energy Exploratorium shows the extent of the solar photovoltaic system that sits atop the historic building and yet remains unnoticeable when viewed from the ground level. (Photo by Bruce Damonte)

An aerial view of the net zero energy Exploratorium shows the extent of the solar photovoltaic system that sits atop the historic building and yet remains unnoticeable when viewed from the ground level. (Photo by Bruce Damonte)

The net zero energy buildings featured in the documentary not only have implemented green measures and technologies to achieve net zero energy usage but also serve as living laboratories from which building occupants and visitors can learn. The documentary covers a variety of public building types ranging from libraries such as the Silver Lake Branch Library in Los Angeles and the West Berkeley Library in Berkeley, to San Francisco’s Exploratorium, the largest net zero energy museum in the United States and boasts a 1.4 megawatt PV system. Federal government buildings such as the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s FLEXLAB is introduced as the most advanced building efficiency simulator with test beds that can monitor and assess HVAC systems, lighting, windows, building envelopes, control systems, and plug loads, in any combination. Then there are the private entities that also push the boundaries in creating net zero energy office buildings such as The Packard Foundation and the Integral Group.

The new NZE West Berkeley Public Library nicely anchors the urban street frontage on University Avenue in Berkeley, California. (Photo by Mark Luthringer)

The new NZE West Berkeley Public Library nicely anchors the urban street frontage on University Avenue in Berkeley, California. (Photo by Mark Luthringer)

The documentary nicely showcases a case study on an industrial type of building, the Net Zero Plus Electrical Training Institute in the Los Angeles area in California, providing a detailed summary of the retrofitted building’s implemented net zero plus features and technologies. In-depth analysis and extensive modeling of how the building used energy were conducted to develop net zero plus strategies and shrink the building’s energy footprint. Central to the building’s performance is its energy monitor system that tracks how much power is used by all the building equipment and can help the building operations team identify areas for improvement in reducing energy use. So far, the Net Zero Plus Electrical Training Institute generates 1.25% more energy than it consumes and is currently undergoing fine-tuning and the required one-year monitoring before it can receive confirmation and certification of the Net Zero Energy Building Certification from the International Living Future Institute.

The Net Zero Plus Electrical Training Institute in the Los Angeles area in California. (Photo courtesy NZP Electrical Training Institute)

The Net Zero Plus Electrical Training Institute in the Los Angeles area in California. (Photo courtesy NZP Electrical Training Institute)

“Building Below Zero: The Net Zero Plus Transformation” has done a great job in showcasing the variety of net zero energy and net zero plus buildings and the viewpoints of regulators and building owners who are key to leading the charge in the development of net zero buildings. However, I wish that there was more time in the show to feature the architects and engineers who transformed the requirements and visions into reality. Perhaps there will be a follow up documentary, Mr. Jackson? A quick shout out and congratulations to my colleagues at the Integral Group (Integral Group’s San Jose Office), EHDD (The Packard Foundation and The Exploratorium) and Harley Ellis Devereaux (West Berkeley Library), the firms responsible for creating some of the beautiful, LEED certified and net zero energy buildings featured in the documentary.

See the documentary here.

 

 

About Mignon O'Young

Mignon O’Young, Editor, is a California licensed architect, LEED Accredited Professional, and Certified Green Building Professional with more than 15 years of experience in the design, construction, green building, and affordable housing development industries.
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