I'm reading more and more about net-zero buildings and their impact on federal and international green building codes and initiatives. Jim Sinopoli, for instance, has a great write-up on greenbiz.com looking at the "moon shot" of these concepts here.
Net Zero Building defined: The fundamental notion of net-zero buildings is that they use no "net" energy from the grid. Specifically, that while they may be grid connected and draw power from a utility, they are capable of generating enough power to 100% offset any grid power use. Net zero buildings will need both dramatically improved energy efficiencies, and local renewable power sources to create this "net" zero impact on energy consumption. The Dept of Energy has an overview page here.
Net Zero Building initiatives: There are initiatives at the global (ICC), national (Architecture 2030), and state level (California Energy Commission), pressing for net-zero as the goal for all new buildings by 2030. These various intitiatives have the backing and promotion of all substantive industry groups that touch buildings, building standards, and building performance (including but not limited to AIA, ASHRAE, USGBC, IES, NEMA, the U.S. government, ACEEE, etc.)
Good, noble goals, combined with good, strong programs, backed by the building's industry's biggest and strongest code, standards, and sustainability leadership groups.
What I like about net zero is that the definition of success is clear. Unlike a program that offers points/credits, net zero ultimately boils down to a simple, single equation... did that building draw power (over the span of a year) from the grid that never got replaced. What I am more concerned about with net-zero is that it's vastly unobtainable for certain types of buildings, and therefore, and will struggle to exist as a simple, one-size fits all model. Just a classic tradeoff here between making a clear, simple, measurable goal, and reflecting the reality of how heterogenous our built environment really is. But even if I don't like the hard-to-reach challenge of net-zero on certain buildings, I'm not sure what alternatives there are. Again, net-zero offers some great advantages: it's a big, audacious, inspiring goal with huge impacts on our planet (buildings consume 40% of all electric power, eliminating that load would eliminate a corresponding 40% of all generation/emissions).