The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Building Technologies Office (BTO) is working to develop a national definition for zero-emissions buildings. The BTO issued a Request for Information (RFI) on Jan 3, 2024, to solicit feedback from industry, academia, research laboratories and government agencies.

DOE officials say a universal definition for zero-emissions buildings will “serve as a clear market signal and consistent target, backed by measurable data, that is intended to help move the building sector to zero emissions.”

White House officials have called for net-zero emissions by 2050 and a 100% clean energy electricity sector by 2035. The government also aims for zero emissions in new building construction and retrofits by 2030. Photo courtesy of Unsplash.

White House officials have called for net-zero emissions by 2050 and a 100% clean energy electricity sector by 2035. The government also aims for zero emissions in new building construction and retrofits by 2030. DOE officials say this will increase building efficiency and expand clean energy capacity.

“Developing a broadly accepted common definition of a zero-emissions building, as well as a pathway for verification, is foundational to transition the building sector to zero emissions while cutting energy costs and making homes and businesses more resilient to climate disaster,” write DOE officials.

They add that a national definition for a zero-emissions building will “create a clear market signal and a standardized, consistent and measurable basis for zero emissions buildings. The definition will act as a framework, offering designers and builders multiple pathways to influence the design and operation of buildings, thereby reducing building sector emissions.”

DOE officials explain that reducing emissions in the building sector is key to addressing the climate crisis. They say that nearly 30% of U.S. greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are from building operations, while 13% of GHG emissions are from direct burning of fossil fuels within buildings.

Part one of the definition will focus on zero operating emissions. Future parts of this definition will likely include embodied carbon, refrigerants and other key elements. As proposed currently, the definition of a zero operating emissions building is:

  1. Highly energy efficient;
  2. Free of onsite emissions from energy use; and
  3. Powered solely by clean energy.

Part one of the draft definition, which includes details on the criteria above, is available here. DOE will consider responses to the RFI before finalizing version 1.00 of part one of the national definition for a zero-emissions building. Responses to the RFI must be submitted electronically to https://forms.office.com/g/Y0Ss3UFdL3 no later than 5 p.m. (ET) on Feb. 5, 2024.

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