Notes from 2020 Net Zero Energy Conference

by Guy Van Meulebrouck PE

The world’s largest Net Zero Energy Conference was conducted on-line this year. Even the product show was on-line. Personally, the product exhibits didn’t work as well for me as visiting a booth and talking with manufacturer representatives but at least I could grab some digital brochures quickly and leave emails of my questions. The actual presentations and training sessions were every bit as good as live and even one step better. As one listens to the live stream event, there is a margin on the side where attendees can type in questions and comments without disturbing the speaker. Question and Answers at the end of the presentation went much smoother that way.

While there were more training sessions and breakout sessions than any one person can attend-here are my notes from the sessions I did attend.

I was impressed by a point made in last year’s conference that I wanted to share first. Architectural trends have always changed throughout history. If one lists all of the changes in architectural trends in history and then assigns an approximate number of years that each trend needed to become established—one sees that architectural trends are coming into being faster in today’s communications age. So, while some of these dreams of environmentally friendly cities that give people more access to sunlight and nature may seem like wishful thinking-consider that they are likely to come to fruition faster than expected.

  1. Restaurants and Food Services:

Based on studies, 25% of all food sold in USA winds up as trash. This actually has a small and simple implication for architecture. When one considers how much water, fertilizers, chemicals, transportation, rising costs of trash removal, cooling, and storage are involved in presenting food to people-there is a significant amount of energy and money that gets wasted when food gets wasted . The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s point in all this is that wasted food winds up rotting in a dump producing methane, which counts as easily avoidable pollution.

example of expanded space requirements for trash
clear and obvious signage is needed

The bottom line for architects:The need of food service to save money, coupled with growing concern for the environment and growing emphasis from the governments brings new expectations from building owners. While it is up to building owners to put in the efforts that minimize food waste-architects should plan ahead and provide space for not one but three different trashcans in eating areas and kitchens:

  • one trash bin for recyclables
  • one trash bin for compostables
  • one trash bin for plain old trash

Since people will not cooperate with things they don’t understand-architects should allow for signage above (or integral to) each bin for photos of what goes in which. Some sophisticated recycling stations actually have animated graphics and even interactive screens which will require electricity.

While parking lots are increasingly hosting two trash dumpsters, three is more like it but the good news is that each dumpster can now be smaller.

A plug was made for on-site bio-energy stations. This means that facilities that serve meals all day and every day (like hospitals, resorts, large hotels)–one would dump food and paper into a tank which digests it and produces landscape fertilizer and your choice of natural gas or electricity. Dumpster sizes decrease dramatically when one does this so the space in the parking lots for this is already available in most cases.

bio fuel stations take the place of some of the dumpsters and grease tanks
  1. Embodied Carbon:

Embodied Carbon is a style of design that considers how much energy is consumed in producing and transporting major building products in a given project, and then weighting these materials against the alternative choices that are more commonplace. This introduces yet more complications into a design but this subject is not going away. The good news is that each passing year, more and better data and software become available to make comparisons and what if’s as quick and easy as possible. One point that was stressed in this seminar was that Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) for trees currently does not give credit for specifying trees that are invasive species. Taking the time to review how lumber is harvested and specify lumber which is sustainably harvested adds only small amount to overall project cost.

Embodied Carbon illustrated by SKANSA contractors

  1. New Product Shark Tank.

Each year, new technologies that are ready to be introduced into the marketplace are presented in this conference’s exhibition features the product/material inventors themselves (along with samples of their products). Many of these products are seeking demonstration projects in which they discount the installation in return for endorsements. Last year, for example, I saw a window that effectively gathered photovoltaic energy while being every bit as clear and translucent as any other window. The demonstration for that product left no doubt the product worked. Anyway, this year, a Shark Tank was added in which each inventor showed their product with lots of visual graphics and a panel of four building owners followed up each presentation with a few impressions of the product and a “connect and follow” or a “interested in implementing this” vote of approval. The owners were chosen from developers, government, and large scale property managers. This approach lent itself very well to an on-line conference format.

Here is a list of the products I found interesting (email me and I can send you cut-sheets):

  • A foam based, environmentally friendly fire suppression system for the OUTSIDE of houses in fire zones.
  • Nano-tint for windows. There were two separate products introduced. First is a paint-on transparent coating for existing windows that gives them a 0.32 shading coefficient. The second was an ingenious window screen that consisted of an array of tiny be-metallic pieces of metal (somewhat like miniature bird wings). When sun shines through the windows, the metal on one side of the bird wing thing expands and changes to shape and shading of the piece. When the whole array does this, you get shading when you need it and minimal shading when you don’t need it.
  • A new stucco that is environmentally friendly and cost competitive yet offers insulation value, fire resistances, better crack resistance, vapor permeable stucco that can be applied in thicker coatings (saving labor)
  • Glulam made out of bamboo
  • Concrete which uses process wood fibers derived from down timber in forests (thereby reducing chances for wildfire spread).
  1. Town planning versus CoVID type health considerations and civil protests:

This topic was addressed by a panel of professional town planners. While there was some consensus that urban downtown environments will still be popular regardless of health and civil issues. Beyond that, I personally was not able to jot down any particular generally held conclusions from this discussion but I believe that the presentation was recorded for future access (netzeroconference.com/nz20)

  1. New Green Deal:

This presentation was by two youths who have achieved considerable success in initiating changes in government policies and laws. The New Green Deal is a political charter. What is politically unique about this charter is that it was conceived exclusively by people who, as youths, have no existing vested financial interests ((other than what public schools have indoctrinated them with)) and that this movement represents wishes of people who will be effected the most by climate change (youths). It was inspired by FDR’s New Deal and it is tightly packaged with cultural agendas as well.

New Green Deal has blossomed into a globally established movement that can be researched and tracked by googling “New Green Deal”. Since we will all be seeing Green Party on our ballots this fall-this presentation put some faces with the names.

Jamie Margolin
Zanagee Artis

I hope you can attend next year’s Net Zero Conference!

Thanks for reading my Blog

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