Paths to Net Zero Energy/Carbon Communities and Examples

Otto Van Geet, NREL

The basic principal for moving towards net zero energy/carbon for both buildings and communities is to first focus on reducing energy use in communities through energy efficiency, and next meet the remaining loads with renewable energy sources. The definition of a zero energy communities (ZEC) extends the principals of net zero buildings (ZEB) to communities. ZEC have an opportunity that load diversity provides over ZEB. ZEC electrical and thermal loads differ over time scales, daily and seasonally. This can be an opportunity when there are mixed uses among groups of buildings. If these mixed uses are considered together, the generating and capacity needed for the community system is less than the sum of the individual peak loads due to load diversity. This becomes especially relevant as communities, campuses and bases consider measures to address resiliency in their community energy approaches such as micro-grids as well as their desire to increase their use of on-site generation from renewable energy. This is true for electrical needs as well as use of campus or district scale heating and/or cooling systems.

Learning Objectives

  • Understand definition and approach to creating ZEC using energy efficient building design and renewable energy systems.
  • Understand community energy strategies and how to minimize community energy use and demand.
  • Understand the three path toward a ZEC
  • Understand leading examples of island nations, grid tied, and grid tied with microgrid option ZEC.


Otto Van Geet is a principal engineer at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), has been involved in the design, construction, and operation of energy efficient research facilities such as labs and data centers, office and general use facilities, and low energy use campus and community design. Mr. Van Geet was one of the founding members of the Labs21 program and provides technical guidance for the program. His experience also includes renewables screening and assessment.


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