"Energy Efficiency is at the heart of energy affordability." Tony Earley, Chairman, CEO and President of PG&E Corporation

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Zero Net Energy Building Designs Come Up Winners

By Jonathan Marshall

A PG&E-sponsored architectural design competition today (Dec. 7) powerfully demonstrated that California’s dream of making all new residential construction “zero net energy” (ZNE) is capturing the imagination of student and professional architects from around the country and even abroad.

A design by Berkeley’s Chris Parlette was one of the winning entries of the Architecture at Zero competition. (Photo by Jason King.)

PG&E joined the San Francisco chapter of American Institute of Architects in announcing the winners of their first Architecture at Zero competition for ZNE building designs. With participants from as far away as Buenos Aires, the competing architects offered diverse concepts for an urban infill site in the city of Emeryville, with the design goal of producing as much clean energy as it would consume.

Requiring that all new buildings be ZNE—residential by 2020, commercial by 2030—is a state policy goal adopted by the California Energy Commission, California Air Resources Board, California Public Utilities Commission, and the Governor’s office. It will require an intense focus on reducing energy consumption through state-of-the-art design and technology, with grid-connected renewable energy to minimize each building’s residual carbon footprint.

Learn more about the California model for energy efficiency

The winning entries ranged from futuristic egg-shaped buildings (“really cool and really provocative,” in the words of one judge) to airy, snake-like apartment buildings with solar panel roofs and separated by verdant gardens.

The five winners—three professional and two student teams—were awarded prizes totaling $25,000, provided by PG&E’s Zero Net Energy Pilot Program, an exploratory research and technical advisory program dedicated to helping achieve the state’s goals.

Ripple Effect from the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee was one of the award-winning student designs.

“We ran this competition to help advance the practice of ultra-high performance building design,” said Peter Turnbull, who directs PG&E’s ZNE program. “When designers start projects from the beginning with a ZNE objective, it changes how they make design choices, instead of ‘business as usual.’  We want to reinforce and communicate the value of changing the design process.”

The host of the award ceremony, PG&E Senior Director Saul Zambrano, paid tribute to the “energy and creativity” of the contestants and to Northern California’s “vibrant design community.”

Zambrano added, “One of the things I love about California is that we have a progressive policy and strategy to drive energy intensity down.” That’s certainly true for buildings. But if the recent competition was any indication, the energy intensity of today’s green designers is higher than ever.

This story originally appeared on pgecurrents.com.