Until recently, large-scale, cost-effective net-zero energy buildings (NZEBs) were thought to lie decades in the future. However, ongoing work at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) indicates that NZEB status is both achievable and repeatable today. This paper presents a definition framework for classifying NZEBs and a real-life example that demonstrates how a large-scale office building can cost-effectively achieve net-zero energy. The vision of NZEBs is compelling. In theory, these highly energy-efficient buildings will produce, during a typical year, enough renewable energy to offset the energy they consume from the grid. The NREL NZEB definition framework classifies NZEBs according to the criteria being used to judge net-zero status and the way renewable energy is supplied to achieve that status. We use the new U.S. Department of Energy/NREL 220,000-ft2 Research Support Facilities (RSF) building to illustrate why a clear picture of NZEB definitions is important and how the framework provides a methodology for creating a cost-effective NZEB. The RSF, scheduled to open in June 2010, includes contractual commitments to deliver a Leadership in Energy Efficiency and Design (LEED) Platinum Rating, an energy use intensity of 25 kBtu/ft2 (half that of a typical LEED Platinum office building), and net-zero energy status. We will discuss the analysis method and cost tradeoffs that were performed throughout the design and build phases to meet these commitments and maintain construction costs at $259/ft2. We will discuss ways to achieve large-scale, replicable NZEB performance. Many passive and renewable energy strategies are utilized, including full daylighting, high-performance lighting, natural ventilation through operable windows, thermal mass, transpired solar collectors, radiant heating and cooling, and workstation configurations allow for maximum daylighting. This paper was prepared by the client and design teams, including Paul Torcellini, PhD, PE, Commercial Building Research Group Manager with NREL; Shanti Pless and Chad Lobato, Building Energy Efficiency Research Engineers with NREL; David Okada, PE, LEED AP, Associate with Stantec; and Tom Hootman, AIA, LEED AP, Director of Sustainability with RNL.

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