Thursday, February 2, 2017

Meeting the Zero Net Energy Challenge

With the rise in anomalous weather events in California and the potential of America pulling out of the Paris climate agreement, climate change is an increasingly hot topic on a local and global scale. San Mateo County Community College District (SMCCCD), known for its commitment and innovative approach towards operational and academic excellence, has taken the initiative to become a zero net energy (ZNE) district by 2030. This aligns with California’s Energy Action Plan, which has a goal for all new commercial construction in California to be ZNE by 2030.

ZNE occurs when the total amount of energy consumed is less than or equal to the production of on-site energy on an annual basis. SMCCCD’s ZNE strategy, coming in June 2017, outlines past, current, and future projects that will allow all three campuses to collectively reduce their reliance on the grid, save money, and save energy.

Figure 1. Visual interpretation of a zero net energy building where energy consumption equals production.
The first step towards ZNE is designating a baseline formed around the previous year’s energy usage data. The baseline allows for benchmarking activities to monitor and track progress in the future. In SMCCCD’s case, recently installed sub-meters have provided building EUIs and high-resolution natural gas and electricity data to create a baseline using 2016 data. Sub-meters have also demystified the allocation of energy on each campus and functioned as a tool to target and prioritize energy inefficient buildings.   

 Figure 2. Building 5 at the College of San Mateo is certified LEED Silver. Currently, one of SMCCCD’s design standards requires that all new buildings be LEED Gold certified. LEED certification helps to achieve ZNE and encourage sustainability in the built environment. 
Next, to decrease energy consumption, conservation and efficiency measures take priority. These measures are less expensive and have a relatively lower carbon footprint than building on-site renewable energy. However, when energy cannot be further reduced, installation of on-site renewable energy offsets the remaining load. Identification and quantification of such measures are in SMCCCD’s ZNE report.

Becoming a ZNE district will shield SMCCCD against outside economic forces as currently accessible non-renewable energy sources become depleted and/or obsolete, while satisfying the triple bottom line. Moreover, the environmental stewardship and leadership that SMCCCD exemplifies directly benefits students and facilities moving SMCCCD towards becoming a more sustainable organization.

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