The International Living Future Institute defines Net Zero Energy (NZE) as “One hundred percent of the project’s energy needs being supplied by on-site renewable energy on a net annual basis.”
Source: "The Power of Zero: Learning from the World's Leading Net Zero Energy Buildings," by Brad Liljequist (International Living Future Institute, 2010).
In one simple, elegant sentence, a radical agenda for eliminating carbon dioxide emissions and use of combustion fuels within the built environment is set in place. In short: generate what you use. With this crisp idea, an array of powerful forces and concepts are brought to bear on some of our time’s most challenging problems.
Restated in more basic terms, Net Zero Energy buildings and communities generate as much energy as they use over the course of the year. The significant majority of NZE buildings are connected to the grid, with a meter that spin backwards and forwards: when the building is generating more than it uses it builds a surplus, and when it uses more than it generates, it draws from that surplus. At the end of the year, at a minimum it nets to zero use, or potentially is net positive. In practice, NZE buildings have to significantly lower the energy use from typical consumption — usually a 60-80 percent reduction. On-site energy generation offsets the remaining use.
Net zero energy is such a radical and powerful concept because it is one of the key solutions to carbon neutrality and the elimination of fossil fuel use.