Center for Environmental Building & Design

Contents
  • RE(DE)FINING NET ZERO ENERGY: MAXIMIZING RENEWABLE RESOURCE USE THROUGH EMERGY ANALYSIS OF ENVIRONMENTAL BUILDING DESIGN

RE(DE)FINING NET ZERO ENERGY: MAXIMIZING RENEWABLE RESOURCE USE THROUGH EMERGY ANALYSIS OF ENVIRONMENTAL BUILDING DESIGN

Ravi Shankar Srinivasan, 2011, Dissertation in Architecture

The notion that raw materials for building construction are plentiful and can be extracted “at will” from Earth’s geobiosphere, and that these materials do not undergo any degradation or related deterioration in energy performance while in use is alarming and entirely inaccurate. For these reasons, a particular building, like an organism or an ecosystem must seek self-sustenance for its design to prevail in competition with other building designs in a time with limited availability of energy and materials. Selforganization of systems to maximize useful power is the key to self-sustenance. To this
extent, Net Zero Energy (NZE) buildings achieve a net annual energy balance in their operations. However, approaching a NZE building goal based on current definitions is flawed for two principal reasons – they only deal with energy quantities required for operations and related emissions, and they do not establish a threshold which ensures that buildings are optimized for reduced consumption before renewable systems are integrated to obtain an energy balance. Current definitions and calculations of net energy do not include the energy flows from the sun, wind, rain, and geological cycles
and so-forth from the beginning.
This dissertation develops a method to maximize renewable resource use through emergy (spelled with an “m”) analysis to close the gap between current approaches to environmental building design and the over-arching goal of creating buildings that contribute to the sustainability of the geobiosphere. The objective of this study is to assess the performance of built systems and identify the maximum potential bounds for renewable resource substitution within the building process. This study proposes using a “Renewable Emergy Balance” (REB) in environmental building design
as a tool to maximize renewable resource use through disinvestment of all nonrenewable resources that may be substituted with renewable resources. REB buildings preserve a high standing by optimizing buildings over their entire life-span from formation-extraction-manufacturing to maintenance and operation cycles. If such an approach were adopted, it would expand conscious decision-making and, possibly, lead to a paradigm shift in the way non-renewable resources are used in the manufacturing of building materials, which is currently of interest, but remains unchecked.

Ravi Shankar Srinivasan, Associate Professor, University of Florida. ravi.s.srinivasan@gmail.com