What Is Zero Energy?

What is a Zero Energy Building?

A Zero Energy Building is a highly energy-efficient building that generates as much energy as it consumes through on-site renewable energy sources, such as solar panels or wind turbines.

While some members of the building community refer to these types of buildings as “Zero Net Energy” or “Zero Energy Ready," San Mateo County Energy Watch has decided to go with the overarching term “Zero Energy,” in order to focus on and encourage the high energy performance of the building, instead of the renewable energy it can produce.

SMC Energy Watch defines Zero Energy Buildings as follows:

  • Either Zero Net Energy (strongly encouraged), or, if Zero Net Energy is not feasible, Zero Energy Ready. Builders/owners must be able to demonstrate measures taken to achieve a high performance building and have accommodations for renewables in the future
  • Renewables cover all site energy consumed, not source
  • Does not allow for renewable energy certificates to count as renewable energy generated
  • Energy purchased from a Community Choice Energy (CCE or CCA) source or other renewable utility portfolio does not count as renewable energy generated. Building must still have on-site renewable generation or a plan to implement it in the future
  • Is able to accurately report energy use and energy generation data
  • Building does NOT consume Natural Gas

What are the benefits of a Zero Energy Building?

  • Lower utility bills
  • Releases fewer carbon emissions that contribute to global climate change
  • Less vulnerable to changing energy prices
  • Healthier: Better air quality and less mold than in conventional buildings
  • More comfortable: No drafts and more uniform interior temperatures
  • Potential higher resale value
  • Creates local jobs

Are there Zero Energy Buildings on the Peninsula?

There are a number of Zero Energy homes and commercial buildings on the Peninsula and in the Bay Area, including this home in Palo Alto and this office building in Sunnyvale. Click through our Resources section for more information.

Is Zero Energy the law?

California law requires all new residential buildings to be Zero Energy in 2020. All new commercial buildings and 50 percent of existing commercial buildings must be Zero Energy in 2030.

SMC Energy Watch is supporting cities and building professionals across the county in achieving these goals. Where Zero Energy is not feasible, Energy Watch strongly encourages buildings to be “Zero Energy Ready” – that is, ultra-energy-efficient buildings that currently may not have on-site renewable energy generation, but are “ready” to be considered Zero Energy when renewable energy sources are installed at a later time.

Where can I get more information on Zero Energy?

Call SMC Energy Watch’s Zero Energy hotline at (650) 599-1402.


Zero Energy: The Future of Building

Zero Energy for Homeowners and Developers

Zero Energy for Building Professionals