Accelerating Net Zero Action

New program from the USGBC helps Los Angeles’ ambitious net zero goals with practical energy solutions

By NEAL ANDERSON

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This fact bears repeating: the buildings sector accounts for about 76 percent of electricity use and 40 percent of all U.S. primary energy use and associated greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. As green building professionals, we are collectively committed to take action.

In between that awareness and commitment to take action, we need “actionable” solutions to make net zero buildings a reality today. What innovations can and should we use? Do they really work? What is the business case? Am I empowered to take risks? How can I minimize those risks while taking action?

These are some of the questions being confronted head-on through the US Green Building Council-Los Angeles’ new Net Zero Accelerator program, which is focused on piloting and promoting technologies and solutions that help make zero carbon, zero energy, zero water, and zero waste buildings a reality in Los Angeles and beyond.

“Net zero” simply means that buildings do not use or make more than they create. Net zero buildings create as much energy as they use and leverage energy efficiency solutions. Carbon reduction is closely related to energy efficiency, which relies on clean renewable energy generation and use to reduce greenhouse gas emissions – a significant focus area for Los Angeles. Using net zero water also combines efficiency solutions including options like rainwater collection and greywater treatment and reclamation.

While these goals make common sense for more livable buildings and communities, the business case for designing, retrofitting, and building green is also compelling in both the short and long term. Innovations can be incredibly cost effective compared to traditional solutions.

Solar photovoltaic solutions, for example, reduce operating costs over the long term today and provide a hedge against future electricity price increases. In addition, the growing availability of virtual net metering has been a boon for the multifamily market, adapting to the needs of building owners while also increasing tenant appeal, justifying higher rent rates, and becoming a source of profit once the photovoltaic system is paid in full.

Combined with incentives from states, cities, and utilities, the bottom-line sense to move toward net zero buildings is impossible to ignore. The City of Los Angeles has set aggressive net zero building goals that apply to us all: “All new buildings will be net zero carbon by 2030; and 100 percent of buildings will be net zero carbon by 2050.”

Large gaps exist today between these net zero building goals and current technologies in use at existing buildings. The Net Zero Accelerator program bridges those gaps by identifying viable technologies, positioning them for success, and accelerating their market entry in Los Angeles. By proxy, we hope to see these solutions rapidly adopted across the nation and globe.

Collectively, we have the immense power, knowledge, and resources to rise to any challenge. We are multifamily property owners, building operators, architects and designers, domain and subject matter experts, utilities and engineers, builders and investors, universities, and innovators. Over 20 organizations have committed early engagement by providing expertise, pilot sites, and other resources to drive the Accelerator’s success.

Four years ago, we knew that the opportunities for improving energy efficiency were enormous, let alone that of carbon, waste and water. The U.S. Department of Energy published that “by 2030 building energy use could be cut more than 20 percent using technologies known to be cost effective today and by more than 35 percent if research goals are met. Much higher savings are technically possible.”

By focusing on validating and placing solutions in existing buildings, now, this is an area where we can move the proverbial needle in the right direction. Source innovative startups, pair them with experts to fine tune them for scalable adoption, and broadly promote awareness of these solutions with an emphasis on placing technology pilots with building partners. See results before the new year, and keep the momentum rolling.

Innovation is happening. Solutions that bring us closer toward net zero — even net positive — buildings are here. If we help, test, specify, implement, and celebrate them, we can lead by example and demonstrate the positive solutions that are possible when we collaborate.

To learn more about and share the Net Zero Accelerator, visit the USGBC-LA website at usgbc-la.org/programs/net-zero-accelerator.

Neal Anderson is the Director of the Net Zero Accelerator at USGBC-LA. He has helped grow dozens of projects and businesses, with an overarching focus on impact and sustainability. He can be reached at neal@usgbc-la.org.