Two Thousand Live Net-Zero and Love It

By John Addison

John Addison is the author of two books - Save Gas, Save the Planet that details the future of transportation and Revenue Rocket about technology partner strategy. CNET, Clean Fleet Report, and Meeting of the Minds have published over 300 of his articles. Prior to being a writer and speaker, he was in partner and sales management for technology companies such as Sun Microsystems. Follow John on Twitter @soaringcities.

May 26, 2015 | Smart Cities | 0 comments


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Two thousand people live in the zero net energy (ZNE) community of West Village. Near the University of California, Davis, student and staff residents can easily walk to campus. From shopping to campus to fun, they also bicycle everywhere in one of the most bicycle friendly communities in the nation.

West Village is a cluster of new apartment buildings, typically three story, surrounded by parks and open space that will be developed in the future. Most live in one to four bedroom apartments.

ZNE homes generate as much energy over 12 months as they use in those same 12 months. Homes are super efficient and typically use solar power. Energy efficiency is achieved with tight construction, triple pane windows, great insulation everywhere, Energy Star appliances and LED lighting. These homes are designed and ventilated to stay cool in the summer and warm in the winter. Heat pump and space cooling is used instead of energy-hungry conventional HVAC. With excellent energy efficiency, solar power can meet most energy needs.

Buildings are our nation’s largest users of energy. ZNE buildings have demonstrated a model of how to accelerate the transition to using less energy and enabling renewables to replace fossil fuel, especially coal. Now, we have gone beyond single net-zero buildings to entire ZNE communities.

West Village, one of the largest planned ZNE housing development in the country, takes ZNE progress from single buildings to communities. West Village is home for two thousand students, faculty and staff. At build-out, the project will include 662 apartments, 343 single-family homes, 42,500 square feet of commercial space, a recreation center and study facilities. The development also includes a site for a preschool/day care center. In the years ahead, some single family homes and mixed-use developments will be added.

The first two thousand live net zero thanks to staying cool on hundred-degree days with thick insulated walls, roof overhangs and window sunshades; maximum energy efficiency; 4 MW solar on roofs and solar canopies over parking; biogas generator that converts waste to energy; and smart energy management.

California is experiencing the worst drought in 1,200 years. Smart water management is included at West Village, incorporating drought-tolerant landscaping to minimize irrigation needs. Natural drainage systems include greenbelts that cleanse rainwater before entering the storm drain system. Water-saving toilets use only 1.28 gallons of water per flush; shower faucets deploy only 1.5 gallons a minute.

The University of California at Davis has over 35,000 students. It is also one of the world’s great research institutes for fields as diverse as energy, transportation, and biotechnology. The following UC Davis research centers have been involved in West Village and continue to learn from the development:

  • Institute of Transportation Studies
  • Biogas Energy
  • California Lighting Technology Center
  • Center for Water-Energy Efficiency
  • Energy Efficiency Center
  • Western Cooling Efficiency Center

It is one thing to design a ZNE community, it is quite another for a community to limit actual energy use to what it produces renewably. The people living in West Village beat predictions in minimizing appliance use like clothes washing and drying, but they have been worse than modeled at leaving on lights and having lots of electronics plugged-in. These issues are likely to be problems for all ZNE communities. Our future solution is likely to involve smarter homes with intelligent thermostats that respond to sensors shutting off lights, TVs, computers, and games when nobody’s home and in following people’s instructions to schedule appliance use to when utility time of use rates are lowest.

Not Transit-Oriented

Ideally, ZNE communities are not car-centric. Many people will skip using a car to walk a quarter mile to retail and transit. West Village dwellers can easily bike 2 miles to downtown, supermarkets, or 2 miles to a train station providing easy travel to Sacramento, San Francisco, and Tahoe snow. Those not into bicycling will be tempted to drive for groceries, restaurants, and retail, unlike some mixed-use developments. Some students won’t mind walking 1.5 miles round trip to Trader Joes, Starbucks, or some dining spots. Many will use phone apps to get everything delivered. West Village has a low walk score of 9 and a transit score of 41.

Although not a model of sustainable transportation by traditional measures, Davis has long been recognized as a model U.S. bicycle city. Davis has more bicycles than cars. When Davis opened its first bike lane in 1967, opponents argued that the lane violated state law, so Davis lead the campaign in Sacramento, eleven miles a way, that changed California laws. The years have seen growth in bike lanes, protected bike paths, bike traffic signals, and even a bike-only roundabout. For people of all ages, it is easier to get around campus and most of the city by bike, rather than car.

Davis has inspired other great U.S. bike-friendly cities such as Minneapolis, Portland, Seattle, and San Francisco, as well as great bike-friendly university cities such as Boulder, Eugene, Madison, Austin and Ann Arbor.

Bright Future for Zero Net Energy Communities

West Village Community Partnership, invested $300 million in the development and signed a 65-year ground lease with the university. The Partnership is a joint venture of Carmel Partners of San Francisco and Urban Villages of Denver. Carmel Partners manages over $3 billion of multi-tenant residential properties from California to Connecticut and from Washington State to Washington D.C. Urban Villages invests in university housing and urban infill developments. The financial success of these firms at West Village is likely to encourage them to develop more zero-net-energy communities.

New technologies are making it easier to get to net zero. Witness the innovation in building insulation materials, smart windows, energy efficiency, solar and battery storage.

From homes to commercial buildings to communities to universities to islands, thousands are living zero net energy today; tomorrow, millions.

Starting in 2020, new residential construction in California should be ZNE, states the Zero Net Energy Action Plan of the CPUC. Starting in 2030, new commercial construction in California should also be ZNE. California, by law, will get 33 percent of its energy from renewables by 2020 and 40 percent by 2030. Thanks to the growth of ZNE communities, energy efficiency, renewables, energy storage, and demand response, California could meet 80 percent of its energy needs with renewables by 2050.

Zero-net-energy communities invite people who want to be true to their values. In a university environment, many are living the life that they study, research, and teach. They walk and bike to favorite places with other people of similar values. The people at West Village are living a good life and showing us all how we can live better without needing fossil fuels.

Photo Courtesy of Flickr/UC Davis ARM.

 

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