Zero-energy: as easy as 1,2,3?

As concerns over climate change and energy security grow – and the public sector faces increasing pressure to set the right example – a new standard of efficiency has emerged, enabling buildings to completely future-proof their energy supply. Ivo Arnús explains the prospect of zero-energy – and how forward-thinking organisations can lead the way.

With increasing energy demand, ageing gas and electricity grids, and rocketing carbon emissions, it’s no wonder private and public sector organisations alike are looking for ways to reinvent their energy set-up and decrease dependency on less reliable fossil fuel sources.

Although there is no one-size-fits-all solution, ultimately grid independence comes down to more sustainable, self-sufficient methods of gathering, storing and using heat and power.

But with so many technologies now available – and new, innovative market disruptors emerging all the time – it can be difficult to navigate this fast-moving market.

The good news is, there is support out there to help decision-makers solve their energy challenges, within virtually any budget and timing constraints.

Calling in an energy engineering service provider can help guide your organisation through the whole process – from initial analysis of a site’s natural resources, project design, and help securing permission and funding, to equipment recommendation and sourcing, construction and aftercare. What’s more, with the right level of expert support, it’s even possible to design a building that’s completely ‘zero-energy’ – costing nothing to run, and emitting no carbon at all.

Going zero-energy not only breaks a building’s dependence on the grid, but also eliminates its carbon footprint and provides true energy security. So, what exactly, are the practical steps required to make this happen? 

Step one: the baseline report

The first stage is all about assessing the building’s needs, and gathering crucial data that will enable the energy engineering team to fully understand the aims, requirements and restrictions of the individual project. This could include information about the energy infrastructure layout, contracting and consumption.

New metering points may also have to be installed to gather any additional data required to design the energy solution. All of this culminates in a preliminary – or baseline report – which brings the engineering team’s initial findings together and allows a full understanding of the needs and requirements of all stakeholders involved.

Step two: designing the route map to a zero-energy solution

Once the scope of the project has been fully evaluated and a baseline report has been delivered and agreed, the engineering team can start creating the route map for the design of the micro-grid – working closely with architects, engineers and other stakeholders.

As well as defining the technologies that will be used to generate and store heat and power (from renewable electricity, heating and cooling, right through to battery storage and rainwater harvesting), this document outlines the most appropriate control systems for the micro-grid. Effective controls not only ensure a constant, dynamic power supply – they also provide other features like live monitoring and forecasting based on the building’s activity, climate and consumption history.

Another key aspect is understanding the building’s design features, and maximising the impact of both energy efficiency measures and renewable energy sources. The result of this extensive research is a basic design of the zero-energy solution, which includes modelling the hourly, daily, and seasonal fluctuations to cover all possible scenarios. This ensures the chosen approach will provide the building with all the energy it needs to become completely self-sufficient – meeting 100% of its peak energy demand, all year round.

To wrap up step two, the energy engineering service provider would provide an overview of the planning permission elements required and put together a financial study highlighting and evaluating the financing options to deliver the project within the funds available.

Step three: from concept to completion

The last stage of a successful zero-energy project is about implementing the micro-grid. For most, this simply means building the micro-grid system. However, a worthwhile energy engineering partner should ideally offer a tiered service that allows you to choose how much support you need at this point. This could encompass anything from fleshing out all the engineering documents, right through to full start-to-finish project management of a turnkey solution.

However, success doesn’t end with the installation itself; there is also commissioning, results analysis and maintenance to consider. Your expert team should ensure you are well-equipped to make the most out of your new micro-grid system, and provide you with clear evidence that it represents a viable, effective long-term solution to your energy needs.

Part of this is quantifying the return on investment, and offering ongoing technical support for the lifetime of the system – ensuring the building is set up to reap the very real and lasting benefits of going truly zero-energy.


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