2011 buzzwords: net-zero energy, passive house, and photovoltaic.

As we bring in the New Year, there are several trends that will define the construction industry in 2011.  As in recent years, the industry is undoubtedly headed in a sustainable direction focusing on environmentally friendly materials, energy efficiency, and alternative energy sources.  The outlook for the industry in 2011 considers these same principles, but we will see a stronger more informed focus in several areas.

Achieving net-zero energy has become the driving force behind many sustainable projects both commercially and residentially.  Net-zero energy is a term that defines the outcome of a buildings performance due to its energy efficiency based on super-insulation properties combined with alternative energy sources. 

Sustainable construction developments over the past few years have brought us new innovations and technologies that have prepared the industry to take a more feasible approach to redefining building standards.  While the USGBC’s LEED certification standards have been a strong notion to spark the green building revolution, they have also faced a fair share of adversity in 2010.  Adopting energy efficiency and alternative energy guidelines from the LEED standards, and then taking these standards one step higher, leaves us with a new industry wide focus that becomes more budget friendly in an otherwise economically suffering industry.
Since net-zero energy is merely a concept; it fundamentally defines an achievable goal that allows architects and engineers to decide how this goal will be reached without being bound by a scorecard of standards.  One set of standards that can be used as a general guideline for super insulation is Passive House.  The Passive House standards are not as complex or demanding as LEED but provide a more beneficial result; one which is crucial in achieving net-zero energy.  Its main goal is to decrease energy loads in the building and meet the new alternative energy technologies halfway for a net-zero energy building performance. 

Looking back on 2010, this outlook can be justified by recalling what the majority of investment and research activity focused on.  The U.S. government, under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA projects), invested in energy reducing electrical and mechanical systems, window and wall insulation research and development, and many photovoltaic products and projects.  As ARRA funding runs out this year, the construction of new bridges and highways will slow down; however, residential and commercial projects are expected to increase.  It will be an exciting year for the construction industry to see these new technologies implemented into state of the art, net-zero projects that will set a new precedent for years to come.