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White House releases RFI to define zero-emissions building

Jan. 6, 2024
Federal government seeking industry feedback to develop a national definition of net-zero building to advance sector.

What exactly is a zero-emissions building? It’s a question the federal government is interested in answering because, to date, there is no standard, industry wide definition.

As a result, the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Building Technologies Office (BTO) recently released a request for information (RFI) to solicit feedback from industry, academia, research laboratories, government agencies, and other stakeholders to develop an initial draft for a national definition of a zero-emissions building. Responses to this RFI will help to develop a nation-wide classification for a zero emissions building that will serve as a clear market signal and consistent target, backed by measurable data, that is intended to help move the building sector to zero emissions.

President Biden has called for net-zero emissions, economy-wide, by 2050 and a 100% clean energy electricity sector by 2035. Within the building sector, the Biden Administration has set the goal to make zero emissions resilient new construction and retrofits common practice by 2030. Accomplishing these goals will require increasing building efficiency, expanding clean energy capacity, and plugging both new and existing buildings into a grid that is rapidly becoming cleaner.

Cutting emissions in the building sector is key to addressing the climate crisis, while delivering 40% of the benefits from federal investments in climate and clean energy to disadvantaged communities. Almost 30% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions are from operating buildings, with 13% of U.S. GHG emissions from direct burning of fossil fuels within buildings. Buildings contribute an even higher percentage of U.S. GHG emissions when factoring in emissions from construction, materials, and refrigerant. In addition, these efforts will generate savings for consumers, expand economic opportunities for American workers, and reduce climate-related financial risk.

Definition provides a pathway to verification

Developing a broadly accepted common definition of a zero emissions building, as well as a pathway for verification, is foundational to transition the building sector to zero emissions, while cutting energy costs and making homes and businesses more resilient to climate disaster. The National Definition for a Zero Emissions Building will create a clear market signal and a standardized, consistent, and measurable basis for zero emissions buildings. The definition will act as a framework, offering designers and builders multiple pathways to influence the design and operation of buildings, thereby reducing building sector emissions. 

Leading green building programs are anticipated to embed the definition within their certifications and the definition is anticipated to drive more capital to buildings that meet the definition today or are on a clear path to achieve zero emissions over time. Federal assistance programs that support the construction and renovation of non-federally owned buildings will also be encouraged to align around the definition. This initiative is one of numerous actions the Administration is advancing to increase climate resilience across sectors and to prioritize investments in climate-smart infrastructure. Many of these actions are outlined in OMB Memorandum M-24-03, Advancing Climate Resilience through Climate-Smart Infrastructure Investments and Implementation Guidance for the Disaster Resiliency Planning Act.

Operating emissions the initial focus

Part 1 of the definition will focus on zero operating emissions. Future parts of this definition will likely include embodied carbon, refrigerant, and other key elements. As is proposed currently, the definition of a zero operating emissions building is one that is:

  • Highly energy efficient
  • Free of on-site emissions from energy use
  • Powered solely from clean energy

The first draft of the definition in full, which includes details on the criteria above, is available here. This RFI aims to gather more extensive insights on the definition. DOE will consider responses to this RFI before finalizing version 1.00 of Part 1 of the National Definition for a Zero Emissions Building. 

Responses to this RFI must be submitted electronically to https://forms.office.com/g/Y0Ss3UFdL3, no later than 5 p.m. (ET) on February 5, 2024. This is solely a request for information and not a funding opportunity announcement (FOA). EERE is not accepting applications at this time.

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