Photo courtesy of Solid Green Systems

A Rightly Imagined Future for Zero Energy Buildings

By Richard Willingham, CEO motum b2b, Toronto

I’m a member of the Board of the Net Zero Energy Coalition. It’s a volunteer job of course, but it comes with responsibilities. One of those is pretty challenging—come up with clever ideas about accelerating market adoption of Zero, Near Zero and Zero Energy Ready buildings. How can we imagine a realistic future for Zero Energy?

Knowing how to build zero energy is not enough

We already know how to build and design zero energy buildings. We may not have many examples yet, but we’ve built enough to know what we can do. What we don’t know are how to make zero energy shelter and workplaces available to everyone and how to convince all those people to choose to live and work in a zero energy building.

Sometimes it feels like we’ve tried everything.

Zero means very low energy bills. With great designers and builders it can mean lower lifecycle cost. It means healthier, safer and more comfortable environments. What more could anyone want? Unfortunately, it seems like a lot more.

So we’ve got to change the game. We know who can do that in technology—Apple for sure. In auto manufacturing there’s Tesla. But who knows how to do it in construction?

According to a recent biography of Tesla’s visionary CEO, Elon Musk, “what he had done that the rival auto makers missed or didn’t have the means to combat was turn Tesla into a lifestyle. It did not just sell someone a car. It sold them an image, a feeling that they were tapping into the future, a relationship. Apple did the same thing decades ago with the iPod and iPhone. Even those who were not religious about their affiliation to Apple were sucked into its universe.”

Why can’t zero energy be more like Apple or Tesla?

Neither of those brands go to market based on ‘features and benefits’. They sell a cool aspirational dream about the future that needs no explanation.

So why can’t a Zero Energy Building be more like an Apple computer or a Tesla car? Surely we can agree that a zero energy home or building is quite simply the best home or building that money can buy.

Let’s imagine the day when the zero energy home experience is just like that of an Apple or a Tesla. We can already buy both of those in a local shopping mall. Why can’t we buy a zero energy home at the same time?

So how might that happen?

Google is already in the auto business. Tesla is in the battery business. Sooner rather than later one of the megabrands will beat traditional builders and developers at their own game. They will drag us into an inevitable and delightful future of zero energy construction.