ENVR E-119D: Zero Energy and Passive Buildings

Zero energy buildings, also known as net zero energy buildings are buildings (or a community of buildings) which produce with on-site renewables the same amount of energy as they consume, on an annual basis. Typically, a zero energy building consists of a highly-efficient building with rooftop, or site mounted, photovoltaic system. Zero energy is very scalable from single family homes to large commercial buildings to districts or communities of buildings. Once the realm of the most ambitious building owners willing to take significant financial risks, experience, technology, and financing mechanisms have begun to evolve to the point where a zero energy building can cost less to own and operate than a traditional code building. Indeed, Massachusetts is now beginning to see the emergence of spec-built zero energy homes, targeted at the affordable, low-income housing market. Other emerging trends include Executive Order 13514, which requires all new federal buildings to be designed to be zero energy by 2030, as well as various state and municipal initiatives. In the next few decades, it's possible that a large portion of new construction could be zero energy, either by code or by economics. This course provides a comprehensive exploration of zero energy buildings including building energy dynamics and renewable system fundamentals; energy economics, energy budgets, and site and source energy; relevant policy, codes, financing, and incentive structures; state of practice in zero energy design and construction, for both residential scale and commercial/institutional scale; case studies to demonstrate feasibility, key concepts, and lessons learned; the benefits and challenges zero energy imposes on the energy grid; the value zero energy can have in advancing security and resilience.


Paul Ormond







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  • [Course titles in brackets] indicate that the course is not scheduled to be taught during the 2018-2019 academic year, but may be offered in an alternate year.
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Harvard University
Center for the Environment

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Phone: (617) 495-0368

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