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Zero energy buildings and sustainable development implications e A review

Danny H.W. Li a, Liu Yang b, Joseph C. Lam a, *
Building Energy Research Group, Department of Civil and Architectural Engineering, City University of Hong Kong, Tat Chee Avenue, Kowloon, Hong Kong Special Administrative
School of Architecture, Xi’an University of Architecture and Technology, Shaanxi 710055, China

a r t i c l e i n f o a b s t r a c t

Article history: Buildings account for a significant proportion of the total energy and carbon emissions worldwide, and
Received 28 August 2012 play an important role in formulating sustainable development strategies. There is a growing interest in
Received in revised form ZEBs (zero energy buildings) in recent years. Several countries have adopted or considering establishing
28 January 2013
ZEBs as their future building energy targets to help alleviate the problems concerning the depletion of
Accepted 29 January 2013
Available online xxx
energy resources and the deterioration of the environment. Broadly speaking, ZEBs involve two design
strategies e minimizing the need for energy use in buildings (especially for heating and cooling) through
EEMs (energy-efficient measures) and adopting RETs (renewable energy and other technologies) to meet
Zero energy buildings
the remaining energy needs. This paper reviews the works related to these two strategies. EEMs include
Energy-efficient measures building envelopes, internal conditions, and building services systems; RETs cover photovoltaic/building-
Renewable energy technologies integrated photovoltaic, wind turbines, solar thermal (solar water heaters), heat pumps, and district
Sustainable development heating and cooling. Issues pertaining to sustainable development implications and further research
work required are also highlighted. These include life-cycle cost and environmental impacts, climate
change and social policy issues.
Ó 2013 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

1. Introduction that buildings worldwide account for about one-third of the global
greenhouse gas emissions [8,9]. In arguing the importance of sus-
It is generally believed that our climate is changing, and there is tainability in climate change and energy policy, Clift [10] suggested
a growing concern about the increase in energy use and its adverse that the greatest scope for demand reduction lay in improving the
effects on the environment. Consider the two largest energy- building stock.
consuming countries e China and the United States e for instance. There have been growing interests in net zero energy buildings
In China, during 1978e2010 total primary energy consumption in recent years. Since the 1970s, the net energy concept has been
increased markedly from 0.57 to 3.25 billion tonnes of oil equiva- applied in many different fields, from the fossil fuel [11] and nuclear
lent (an average annual increase of 5.6%); and in 2009, China power to renewable energy [12]. Net energy analysis is a technique
overtook the United States to become the largest energy consumer used to compare the amount of energy delivered to society by a
[1e5]. Although carbon emissions per capita in China are low, its technology to the total energy required to produce (i.e. find, extract,
total energy-related carbon emissions reached 6.1 Giga tonnes (Gt) etc.) it in a useful form. In the building sector, net energy is often
overtaking the US (5.7 Gt) in 2007, and have been projected to reach referred to a balance between the energy consumption in a building
over 10 Gt in 2050 [6,7]. When the life-cycle energy use and and the energy produced by its renewable energy systems. The
emissions footprint are considered, buildings account for a signif- terms ‘ZEBs (zero energy buildings)’ and ‘NZEBs (net zero energy
icant proportion of the energy-related emissions. In addition to the buildings)’ have both been adopted by different researchers.
energy used for operation, buildings embody the energy used in the Detailed definitions and descriptions can be found by Marszal et al.
mining, processing, manufacturing and transporting of the building [13] and Sartori et al. [14]. Briefly, NZEBs can be used to refer to
materials, and the energy consumed in the construction and buildings that are connected to the energy infrastructure. In NZEBs,
decommissioning of the buildings. This embodied energy, together there is a balance between energy taken from and supplied to the
with the energy used during the life span of a building constitutes energy (usually electricity) grid over a period of time, nominally a
the life-cycle energy and emissions footprint. It has been estimated year. ZEBs is more general and may include autonomous buildings.
We use the term ZEBs in this review. Several countries have
* Corresponding author. Tel.: þ852 3442 7606; fax: þ852 3442 0427. adopted or considering establishing ZEBs as their future building
E-mail address: (J.C. Lam). energy targets such as the Building Technology Program of the US

0360-5442/$ e see front matter Ó 2013 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

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Department of Energy and the EU Directive on Energy Performance  Building services systems e HVAC (heating, ventilation and air
of Buildings [14e16]. There have also been a number of case studies conditioning), electrical services (including lighting) and ver-
worldwide demonstrating the potential of ZEBs to help alleviate the tical transportation (lifts and escalators).
depletion of energy resources and the deterioration of our envi-
ronment [17,19e23]. A summary of some recent studies is shown in Table 2 shows a summary of some recent studies of energy-
Table 1. In general, ZEBs involve two design strategies e (i) mini- efficient buildings in Australia [29,30], China (including Hong
mizing the need for energy use in buildings (especially for heating Kong) [27,31e35], United Arab Emirates [36], United States [37],
and cooling) through more energy-efficient measures, and (ii) United Kingdom and continental Europe [38e42], and Burkino Faso
adopting renewable energy and other technologies to meet the in Africa [43]. These studies involve one or more of the three major
minimal energy needs. This paper presents a review of the ZEBs categories outlined above. Detailed description of the individual
works and discusses the implications for sustainable development. measures within each major category adopted in these studies can
To give a more comprehensive view and a better understanding of be found in the corresponding cited References, and is therefore not
the underlying issues and salient points, studies though not specific repeated here. Instead, the more salient points pertinent to the
to ZEBs but directly related to the two design strategies and three energy-efficient categories will be discussed.
conducive to the development of ZEBs will also be considered. The
aim was to present an overview rather than a detailed analysis of 2.1. Building envelopes
individual technologies/systems. Our approach was to briefly
describe/discuss the key issues and salient points related to indi- Different climates would have different requirements in the
vidual systems/techniques and quote the relevant references, so building envelope designs to cater for the local prevailing climatic
that readers could refer to the work cited for more detailed infor- conditions [44]. Various indices/criteria have been developed to
mation/analysis. It is envisaged that this review would be of in- assess the thermal performance of building envelopes (e.g. the
terest to both energy researchers and policy makers. OTTV (overall thermal transfer value) for subtropical climates
[45,46], the EETP (evaluation on energy and thermal performance)
2. Energy-efficient measures in the built environment in hot summer and cold winter zone [47], the ETTV (envelope
thermal transfer value) in the tropics [48] and the bioclimatic
In most ZEBs, energy-efficient measures are necessary because, approach using passive design strategies for different climate zones
more often than not, on-site energy generation options are limited [49]). The aim is to limit the amount of summer heat gain and
(e.g. adequate space for solar systems as in high-rise building winter heat loss through the building envelope, so that the corre-
development [20]). Many developed and developing countries sponding heating and cooling requirements would not be exces-
have their own building energy standards and design guidelines sive. Key issues concerning the four energy-efficient measures of
specifically developed to suit, among other things, the local cli- the building envelope are elaborated as follows:
mates as well as the prevailing architectural designs and con-
struction practices (e.g. the EPBD (Energy Performance of  Thermal insulation e three features to be highlighted. First,
Buildings Directive) which requires all new buildings to be “nearly insulation in general tends to be more effective (in terms of cost
zero energy buildings by the end of 2020 in EU countries [15,16], and environmental benefits) in heating-dominated buildings
the ASHRAE (American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air- in colder climates. It is less effective in cooling-dominated
Conditioning Engineers) Standard in the US [24] and the Design buildings with large internal heat loads in warmer climates.
Standard for Energy Efficiency of Public Buildings in China [25]). Second, in theory more insulation means less conduction heat
As a starting point, architects and engineers tend to develop gain/loss, and hence better energy efficiency. In practice, this is
energy-efficient measures in their buildings and building services not always the case. When a building envelope is over-
designs so as to meet (sometimes exceeding) the requirements insulated, reduction in heat loss during cooling mode (espe-
stipulated in local building energy standards. Broadly speaking, cially in mid-season) tends to increase the cooling require-
energy-efficient measures that have significant influence on en- ment, and could result in an overall increase in energy use for
ergy consumption in buildings can be grouped into three cate- space conditioning. The point beyond which further insulation
gories (these measures can also be applied to existing buildings would be counter-productive is called “point of thermal
during minor/major retrofits) [26e28]: inflexion” [50,51]. Third, optimum insulation thickness can be
determined based on simple economic cost analysis [52,53],
 Building envelopes e thermal insulation, thermal mass, win- the more complex life-cycle energy and CO2 emissions analysis
dows/glazing (including daylighting) and reflective/green roofs. [54] and the cost-optimal levels of minimum energy perfor-
 Internal conditions e indoor design conditions and internal mance requirements for buildings and building elements [55].
heat loads (due to electric lighting and equipment/appliances). Increasingly, people are interested in the environment-

Table 1
Summary of recent ZEBs case studies.

Region/country/city Reference Building Energy-efficient measures Renewable energy and other technologies
Cincinnati [17] Factory, office LEED EB Platinum Certified Building (Ref. [18]). PV, solar thermal, wind turbines, biomass stoves, GSHP.
Denmark [19] Residential Thermal insulation, low energy glazing. Three energy supply alternatives: (i) PV with
solar thermal and air/solar HP, (ii) PV with GSHP,
and (iii) PV with DH grid.
Hong Kong [20] Residential No specific energy-efficient measures. PV, BIPV, solar hot water, wind turbines.
Las Vegas [21] Residential Insulated slab, high R-value attic, PV tiles, solar water heater.
high performance windows,
high thermal mass walls,
water-cooled air conditioning.
Madrid and Shanghai [22] Residential Thermal mass, sun shading, evaporative cooling. Solar thermal hybrid HP, PV-powered reversible HP.
Serbia [23] Residential Thermal insulation. PV with water-to-water HP, GSHP

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Table 2
Summary of recent works on energy-efficient measures applied to buildings.

Country/city/climate Reference Building Energy-efficient measures/energy performance implications

Australia, 8 climate zones [29] Residential Thermal insulation, low-emissivity glass and double glazing, high energy efficiency appliances
(especially for cooling-dominated climates).
[30] Office Thermal insulation (less effective in cooling-dominated climates), lower WWR
(window-to-wall ratio), reflective glass, lower LLD (lighting load density,
particularly effective in cooling-dominated climates).
China, 5 major architectural [27,31,32] Office Thermal insulation (effective in severe cold and cold climates), double and triple glazing,
climate zones lower WWR, raise summer SST (set point temperature), lower LLD, improve chiller
COP (coefficient of performance).
Hong Kong SAR [33e35] Residential Thermal insulation, thermal mass, reflective coating windows, lower WWR, solar shading,
9e19% reduction in cooling load and 11e29% reduction in peaking cooling demand.
United Arab Emirates [36] Residential Thermal insulation, thermal mass, double glazing, lower WWR, daylighting, 28% reduction
United States, 8 climate zones [37] Non-residential Thermal insulation, low-emissivity windows, solar shading, daylighting in CO2 emissions.
(office, hotel,
school, etc.)
United Kingdom [38] Residential Thermal insulation, cavity wall, double glazing (best option because of highest saving in
heating energy demand and lowest induced increase in cooling load).
[39,40] Office Thermal insulation, low-emissivity glass, triple glazing, LED lighting, thermal mass with
high ventilation and solar shading help reduce summer overheating.
Berlin (cold), Barcelona [41] General, no specific Traditional air-cavity wall, plus-insulated (air-cavity with additional cork covering) wall,
(temperate), Palermo (warm) building type ventilated wall, good energy and environmental saving in extreme weather conditions in
Berlin and Palermo.
Switzerland [42] Office Solar shading, night ventilation, special design strategies to minimize summer overheating
and reduce the need for cooling energy use.
Burkina Faso (sub-Saharan Africa) [43] Office Solar shading, up to 40% reduction in cooling load.

effectiveness, not just cost-effectiveness of energy-efficient stage. Generalized energy rating systems have been devel-
measures. It is envisaged that life-cycle CO2 emissions anal- oped for different glazing, buildings and climates. We believe
ysis would be adopted more often by designers and researchers these rating systems are valuable design tools conducive to
worldwide. more environment-friendly and sustainable building devel-
 Thermal mass e since the early work by Givoni [56], design opment [65e68].
techniques based on thermal mass have been adopted to  Reflective/green roofs e heat gain through the roof of a low-
lower the indoor daytime temperature by a number of de- rise (particularly single-storey) building can account for a
signers and researchers. More recently, the merits of thermal significant proportion of the total building envelope cooling
mass were systematically evaluated using sensitivity analysis load. Cool or reflective roofs reflect most of the incoming
[57]. It is generally believed that thermal mass should be in- solar heat and hence reduce the amount of conduction heat
tegrated with night-time ventilation (natural/mechanical) to gain. It has been demonstrated that reflective roofs could
utilize the full energy-saving potential. Such design strategy result in substantial energy savings. For instance, Akbari et al.
has proved to be effective in avoiding summer overheating [69] studied 11 prototypical buildings (i.e. residential, office,
and reduce cooling requirements [39,58]. This could help store, school and health care) in 11 US metropolitan statis-
mitigate the impact of global warming on the indoor built tical areas, and estimated that if all roofs were changed to
environment. optimum reflectivity, the reduction in peak demand would
 Windows/glazing (including daylighting) e the general be equivalent to avoiding building more than 13 power
approach is to lower the WWR (window-to-wall ratio) (i.e. plants of 0.5 GW capacity. More recently, Boixo et al. [70]
smaller window area), and use double/triple glazing systems found that using similar technique for residential buildings
with low-emissivity glass and inert gas filled cavity to in Andalusia, Spain could potentially save 295 MWh of
minimize the amount of heat gain/loss [59]. Again, double/ electricity per year. Likewise, greening of roof tops in humid,
triple glazing would not be very effective in cooling- tropical/subtropical climates has good thermal performance
dominated buildings with large internal heat loads in due to greater latent heat dissipation and can prevent most
warmer climates, where single reflective glass is often used of the solar heat from being conducted into the building [71].
to limit the amount of solar heat gain. Reduced window area In the context of ZEBs, however, these energy-efficient
and reflective glass, however, are not conducive to good measures might not be suitable because of the limited roof
daylighting designs. Both numerical and experimental (with space for installing renewable energy systems such as PVs
on-site measurements) works have indicated great energy- and wind turbines. A compromise needs to be made between
saving potential of daylighting schemes especially in cooling- these two conflicting requirements.
dominated buildings due to the dual savings in electricity use
for artificial lighting and air conditioning (less heat dissipa- 2.2. Internal conditions
tion from lighting installations) [60e62]. The key is to strike
a right balance between useful daylight and excessive solar The internal heat sources and the maximum allowable indoor
heat through the analysis of different combinations of the temperature have significant influence on cooling requirements in
daylight aperture (light transmittance  WWR) and the solar the built environment [72]. A recent review of the work on the
aperture (shading coefficient  WWR) [63,64]. Different impact of climate change on building energy use found that mea-
design aspects in terms of the thermal, acoustic, visual and sures addressing the indoor design conditions and lighting load
solar performance of the window/glazing system should be density (LLD) could have great energy-saving and mitigation po-
considered together during the initial, conceptual design tential [73]. The former can be readily applied to both new and

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existing buildings with minimal cost implications. This is important variable air volume air conditioning systems [93], variable speed
in that the majority are existing buildings and it will take decades to drives for fans and pumps [94,95] and high COP (coefficient of
gradually replace them. The latter affects not only the energy use performance) chiller plants with optimal control [96,97]. To have a
for electric lighting but also air conditioning, especially in cooling- better understanding of the underlying issues in a more systematic
dominated buildings in warmer climates. Building energy man- manner, we have deliberately described each key measure indi-
agement systems can help regulate the appropriate indoor thermal vidually. It should be pointed out that in many building develop-
conditions and lighting levels [74]. Key issues related to the indoor ment projects, more often than not, these measures are inter-
conditions and internal heat loads are elaborated as follows: related to each other. Take an office building in London as an
example, where the room air is extracted through a ventilated
 Indoor design conditions e It has been shown that raising and cavity of a triple glazing system before returning to the air condi-
lowering the thermostat settings during the hot summer tioning unit; the building envelope becomes part of the HVAC
months and in winter can greatly reduce the cooling and system and vice versa [98]. Likewise, daylighting involves the
heating requirements. For instance, a survey of 1134 homes in design of building envelope and electric lighting and directly affects
England found wide variation in thermostat settings which, in the internal conditions, which in turn has an impact on the HVAC
the interest of energy efficiency and sustainable development, system. To fully assess the effectiveness of both individual and
could form the foundation of a “social norm” programme multiple energy-efficient measures, it is necessary to consider the
aimed at reducing temperatures in “overheated” homes [75]. dynamic interactions between the different design variables of the
On the cooling side, a 6% reduction in energy use for HVAC for building envelope and the building services systems as well as the
every 1  C increase in the SST (summer set point temperature) indoor conditions and the prevailing outdoor climates [99].
was reported for air-conditioned office buildings in Sydney and
a 69% reduction in peak demand (SST from 23.9  C to 26.9  C) 3. Renewable energy and other technologies
for residential buildings in Las Vegas [76,77]. Since the early
work on adaptive thermal comfort for naturally ventilated (or Even adopting the best energy-efficient measures available,
free-running) buildings in the late 1990s, this approach has energy will still be required to power the day-to-day running of a
been extended to the studies of hybrid ventilation (mixed building. For ZEBs, this is achieved through the use of renewable
mode) and fully air-conditioned buildings, and the recent energy and other technologies (see Table 1 for a summary of the
advance in adaptive thermal comfort approach may take credit technologies used in some recent case studies). Major technologies
for widening the range of acceptable indoor temperature [78e [13,100,101] commonly adopted are (the first four are usually on-
80]. It is generally agreed that a wider temperature range tends site applications whereas the last one is off-site):
to consume less energy than a narrow one. It is, however, less
certain that how far building occupants are willing to accept  PV (Photovoltaic) and BIPV (building-integrated photovoltaic)
such changes. It has been argued that, in the long run, this may  Wind turbines
prove unsustainable as early results indicate “much colder” and  Solar thermal (solar water heaters)
“much warmer” thermal sensation in some green buildings  Heat pumps
adopting the adaptive approach [81]. More work is required,  District heating and cooling
especially in the area of post-occupancy surveys.
 Internal heat loads e it has been estimated that a reduction in
1  C summer overheating can be achieved by lowering the 3.1. PV (Photovoltaic) and BIPV (building-integrated photovoltaic)
internal heat loads by 10 W/m2 [82]. This helps to avoid the
need for cooling in naturally ventilated buildings, and reduce PV is one of the most promising renewable energy technologies
the cooling energy requirements in air-conditioned premises. It in achieving sustainable development [102,103]. All the ZEBs case
has also been shown that electric LLD (lighting load density) studies shown in Table 1 adopted some sorts of PV technology. In
exerts great influence on the thermal and energy performance urban and suburban areas, PV modules/arrays are often mounted
of buildings in different climates, and is a key design variable in on roof tops of houses as well as non-residential buildings (e.g.
energy efficiency consideration [83]. Early work on the prog- offices, hotels, schools). To maximize the number of PV modules
ress and potential of energy-efficient lighting systems (lamps, installed and hence the electrical power generated, other facades of
ballasts, fixtures, controls, and other related design issues) had the building envelope are sometimes utilized. Such system is
indicated good energy e saving potential in developing and termed BIPV (building-integrated photovoltaic). BIPV helps to in-
industrialized countries [84]. More recently, the advance in crease the power generated per unit floor area of the building,
lighting technologies (e.g. dimmable electronic ballasts, digital making solar energy more viable as an alternative and/or supple-
controls and LED (light-emitting diode) lamps) has generated a ment to the electricity grid. This, however, tends to have restricted
lot of interest in promoting the practice of more energy- view affecting natural daylight penetration. Recent work using
efficient lighting designs [85e90]. We believe that this devel- semi-transparent PV modules for the building envelope of an office
opment (especially the technology advance made in LED building in subtropical Hong Kong has demonstrated that the dual
lamps) is conducive to achieving better energy efficiency and function of electricity generation and allowing daylight to enter the
sustainability. interior spaces to facilitate daylighting designs is practicable [104].
Another recent development to increase the energy efficiency of PV
is the HPVT (hybrid photovoltaic thermal) system. In general, a
2.3. Building services systems solar cell has a 9e18% solar-to-electric conversion efficiency (i.e.
more than 80% of the solar radiation received is not converted into
Among the building services installations, HVAC and electric electricity, but either reflected or dissipated as thermal energy).
lighting are the two major energy-consuming items in buildings This causes an increase in the working temperature of the solar cell
(especially cooling-dominated non-residential buildings) account- and leads to a lower conversion efficiency. An HPVT system makes
ing for 40e60% and 20e30% of the total energy consumption, use of thermoelectric cooling modules to reduce the solar cell
respectively [91,92]. Major HVAC energy-efficient measures are temperature and takes advantage of the hot water produced by the

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waste heat generation. HPVT thus generates both electrical and thermosyphon SWH, the best charge efficiency of the system is 82%
thermal energy [102,105]. which is higher than conventional SWHs [117]; an SWH using
The electricity generated is used to power the electrical demand stationary V-trough collector with promising results in both optical
of the respective building, and for grid-connected PV/BIPV systems, efficiency of the reflector and the overall thermal performance of
any surplus will then be fed directly to the local power grid by some the system [118]; and a solar combisystem that simultaneously
sort of metering/connection arrangement. The output power and fulfils domestic hot water and space heating requirements [119].
system efficiency of a PV system vary during different times of the
day and different seasons of the year subject to the prevailing local 3.4. Heat pumps
climatic conditions in general and the amount of solar radiation
available in particular. Information on the daily and seasonal pat- Heat pumps offer viable alternatives of recovering heat from
terns would enable architects and engineers to have a better un- different energy sources for use in various building applications.
derstanding of the likely PV system performance in the design and Recent progress in heat pump technologies focuses on advanced
analysis process. These data can be determined through on-line cycle designs for both heat- and work-actuated systems, improving
monitoring and on-site measurements of PV systems in operation cycle components and working fluids, and exploiting wider utili-
[106,107]. Exploring PV-generated electricity on-site and exporting zation and applications [120]. The coefficient of performance (COP,
any excess power to the local utility grid are an important strategy a measure of the efficiency) of heat pumps is typically between 3
to increase the share of renewable energy within the grid. A recent and 5. ASHPs (air-source heat pumps) tend to have COP close to the
study on large-scale integration of PVs in cities has estimated that lower end of the range. To improve energy performance, ASHPs can
PV systems can cater for 35% of the total electricity consumption be integrated with solar collectors so that energy can be supplied to
[108]. This alleviates the burden on fossil fuels and helps to reduce the evaporator at a temperature higher than the ambient outdoor
the associated CO2 emissions. However, the wide diffusion of PV air, with increasing capacity and higher COP [121]. During peak
generation may cause, among other things, power instability and heating/cooling periods, the prevailing ambient temperatures may
compromise the quality of existing power grid structure. More limit the capacity of an ASHP and cause it to run at a lower effi-
work on “smart grids” is required. Furthermore, ZEBs should ideally ciency. In recent years, there have been a number of studies on the
be designed to function in synergy with the local utility grid and not development of GSHPs (ground-source heat pumps) to cover peak
putting extra stress on the existing power infrastructure. load without the need for supplementary plants. The advantages
include lower operating cost, usually no outdoor unit, higher reli-
3.2. Wind turbines ability, longer unit life, energy conservation and CO2 emissions
reduction [122]. It is generally agreed that GSHPs can achieve better
Wind power generation differs from conventional thermal operational efficiency in climates where building heating and
generation due to the stochastic nature of wind. Reliable wind cooling requirements are well balanced all year round [123]. Most
power forecasting plays an important role in the design and anal- buildings, however, have unbalanced loads dominated by either
ysis of wind turbine systems, and is crucial in dealing with the cooling or heating requirements, especially in warmer and colder
challenges of balancing the supply and demand in any electricity climates. In cooling-dominated buildings in warmer climates, a lot
system [109]. In general, solar and wind availability tends to have of heat will be transferred to the ground through the borehole heat
some complementary characteristics (i.e. when solar availability is exchangers. Over a certain period, the heat will accumulate
low, wind availability tends to be high, and vice versa), which resulting in the increment of the ground temperature, and thus
suggests that solar energy and wind power can, to a certain degree, affecting the operational efficiency. This issue can be resolved by
compensate each other during different times of the year. This has using hybrid systems with supplementary heat rejecting units such
led to the development of hybrid PV-wind power generation sys- as cooling towers to remove the accumulated heat [124]. Hybrid
tems both at utility scale as well as small autonomous systems GSHPs with hot water heating can also be attractive for cooling-
[110e112]. And it was found that hybrid systems had higher energy dominated buildings with comparable hot water requirements
performance than either PV or wind alone. For ZEBs, whether single (e.g. washing and showers). Likewise, in heating-dominated
or hybrid is adopted, the challenge would be grid stability. Though buildings in colder climates, GSHPs may cause a thermal heat
not specific to ZEBs applications, Liu et al. [113] highlighted the depletion of the ground. This will progressively decrease the
importance of grid stability in the integration of large-scale fluc- working fluid temperature and hence lower the system efficiency
tuating renewable energy with the existing electricity infrastruc- [125]. The common approach adopted is using hybrid GSHPs with
ture. Again, more work is required in this area. solar collectors, which recharges the ground through the borehole
thus avoiding the heat depletion of the ground. The optimum
3.3. Solar thermal (SWHs (solar water heaters)) design is when solar heat produces domestic hot water during the
summer time and recharges the borehole during the winter
In the residential sector, energy use for domestic hot water ac- months. The correct sizing is to strike a balance between summer
counts for a significant proportion of the total household energy hot water consumption and winter recharging requirements
consumption. A recent study on the integration of a variety of new [126,127].
water heaters (including SWHs) into a city-scale residential energy
end-use model for Osaka in Japan has shown great energy savings 3.5. District heating and cooling
and CO2 emissions reduction potential [114]. Over the years, there
has been new, innovative development in improving the overall DHC (district heating and cooling) can provide efficiency, envi-
energy efficiency of SWHs, which can be readily applied to ZEBs. For ronmental and operation cost benefits to the communities and
instance, a low profile integrated collector storage hot water system energy consumers. DHC helps to replace less efficient equipment in
was developed to address the architectural aesthetics issue [115]; individual buildings with a more efficient central heating/cooling
and an SWH using a solar water pump was developed, where the system for space conditioning. DHC can contribute to reducing
pump was powered by the steam produced from a flat plate col- climate change and other energy-related environmental concerns
lector and the overall cost was comparable to a conventional SWH such as air pollution, ozone depletion and acid precipitation [128].
[116]. Other recent advances in SWHs include: a two-phrase A study in Japan found that the energy efficiency for cooling in DHC

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systems is superior to that in the case of individual cooling systems technique to assess the energy efficiency and emissions impli-
because of the “concentration effect” and “grade of operation” cations of either the buildings [132,133] or the specific renew-
[129]. Recent studies of district heating in Denmark and Norway able technologies [134,135]. There is, however, very little work
have also shown that a substantial reduction in fuel demands, CO2 on ZEBs. A recent study on a residential building in Denmark has
emissions and operating cost can be achieved by converting to indicated that, from a cost-effectiveness perspective, energy
district heating [130,131]. Despite the initial investment cost (e.g. demand should be reduced to a minimum through energy-
distribution network infrastructure and possible building conver- efficient building designs leaving just a very small amount of
sion measures like switching to hydronic heating system), from the energy requirement to be covered by renewable energy gener-
socio-economic and environmental perspective district heating is ation [19]. A new term “LC-ZEB” (life-cycle zero energy building)
likely to be the most reasonable option for meeting the heating has also been suggested to emphasize the importance of
loads of buildings. Besides, excess heat from ZEBs (via solar thermal examining the entire ZEB on a life-cycle basis taking into ac-
collectors and/or heat pumps) can meet some of the overall heating count both the embodied energy and the operation [136]. An LC-
demand within the network and thus benefit the district heating ZEB is a building in which the total energy consumed in oper-
systems by lowering its fuel consumption [101]. ation plus the energy embodied within the building, its building
services and renewable energy systems do not excess the en-
4. Sustainable development implications and further ergy produced by its renewables over the lifetime of the
research works building. There remain many challenges to overcome in the life-
cycle analysis. For example, although GSHPs have proved useful
From the works reviewed so far, it is reasonable to say that ZEBs in reducing CO2 emissions compared with electric or natural gas
and the associated design techniques and technologies are well heating systems, it has been argued that the reduction is mar-
established, and will play an important part in any future sustain- ginal when other life-cycle environmental impacts (e.g. abiotic
able development strategy. We, however, believe that there are at resource depletion of fossil fuels, ozone layer depletion poten-
least three areas that need further discussion and require more tial and terrestrial ecotoxicity potential) are taken into consid-
research and development work e life-cycle cost and environ- eration [137]. It has also been pointed out that the fuel mix for
mental impacts, climate change and social policy issues. These are electricity generation is going to change in future subject to the
outlined as follows: economic and political circumstances as well as the energy
resource availability, not to mention the complexity regarding
 Life-cycle cost and environmental impacts e the ZEBs concept the electricity network losses in the calculation of energy sav-
raises the question of “in what scale and depth that energy- ings and CO2 reduction in buildings [138e140]. These will
efficient measures should be taken before renewable energy certainly affect the carbon footprints of the different conven-
technologies are considered to cater for the energy require- tional and renewable energy technologies. More work is
ment” [19]. One approach is to conduct a life-cycle energy required.
analysis of the ZEBs including the renewables. There have been a  Climate change e it is generally agreed that our climate is
number of studies using the life-cycle energy accounting changing and the temperature will rise gradually. Recent

Table 3
Comparison of 5 general circulation models for (dry-bulb temperature) DBT, (wet-bulb temperature) WBT and (global solar radiation) GSR (Ref. [144]).

City Model DBT WBT GSR Average scorec

a b
C Rank C Rank C Rank C Rank MJ/m2 Rank MJ/m2 Rank
Harbin BCCR-BCM2.0 3.81 4 6.15 4 3.21 5 5.25 4 1.38 4 3.98 4 4.2
GISS-AOM 1.59 2 3.49 2 0.16 1 2.61 2 0.70 1 3.32 2 1.7
INM-CM3.0 4.02 5 5.22 3 2.77 4 4.10 3 1.05 3 3.83 3 3.5
MIROC3.2-H 0.35 1 2.67 1 0.29 2 2.35 1 3.65 5 5.69 5 2.5
NCAR-CCSM3.0 2.66 3 8.69 5 1.65 3 7.27 5 1.03 2 2.90 1 3.2
Beijing BCCR-BCM2.0 6.89 4 7.54 3 4.59 4 5.24 3 1.46 1 2.76 1 2.7
GISS-AOM 3.24 2 4.02 2 2.44 2 3.33 2 2.01 4 3.09 3 2.5
INM-CM3.0 7.28 5 7.96 4 5.58 5 6.15 4 1.87 2 2.90 2 3.7
MIROC3.2-H 2.69 1 3.47 1 1.86 1 2.70 1 4.20 5 4.81 5 2.3
NCAR-CCSM3.0 5.62 3 8.40 5 4.35 3 6.75 5 1.92 3 3.93 4 3.8
Shanghai BCCR-BCM2.0 0.91 1 1.93 1 0.63 1 1.92 1 2.53 2 4.01 1 1.2
GISS-AOM 3.28 5 4.76 4 2.70 5 4.07 3 4.01 3 4.80 3 3.8
INM-CM3.0 3.16 4 4.71 3 2.51 4 4.10 4 4.57 4 5.37 4 3.8
MIROC3.2-H 1.00 2 2.08 2 1.37 3 2.18 2 5.20 5 6.03 5 3.2
NCAR-CCSM3.0 1.79 3 5.13 5 0.86 2 4.52 5 2.24 1 4.15 2 3.0
Kunming BCCR-BCM2.0 3.00 5 3.52 5 0.52 1 1.97 1 0.13 1 3.56 1 2.3
GISS-AOM 0.52 4 1.47 1 2.23 5 2.60 3 4.41 4 5.79 4 3.5
INM-CM3.0 0.14 1 3.40 4 1.32 3 3.46 5 3.77 2 5.41 2 2.8
MIROC3.2-H 0.23 2 1.68 2 1.87 4 2.29 2 4.15 3 5.50 3 2.7
NCAR-CCSM3.0 0.23 2 3.34 3 0.59 2 2.98 4 4.82 5 6.76 5 3.5
Hong Kong BCCR-BCM2.0 1.32 4 2.12 2 0.36 2 1.85 2 2.53 1 4.50 1 2.0
GISS-AOM 0.60 2 2.61 3 0.18 1 1.99 3 6.18 5 7.22 5 3.2
INM-CM3.0 2.92 5 3.64 5 2.45 5 3.11 5 5.45 4 7.01 4 4.7
MIROC3.2-H 0.06 1 1.77 1 0.69 3 1.75 1 5.08 3 6.37 3 2.0
NCAR-CCSM3.0 0.99 3 2.62 4 0.84 4 2.62 4 3.55 2 4.59 2 3.2
MBE ¼ f ni¼ 1 ðPi  Mi Þg=n (Pi ¼ prediction, Mi ¼ measured data, n ¼ 252 for Hong Kong, n ¼ 348 for the 4 mainland cities).
RMSE ¼ f ni¼ 1 ðPi  Mi Þ2 =ng1=2 :
Arithmetic mean of the 6 rankings.

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D.H.W. Li et al. / Energy xxx (2013) 1e10 7

reviews of the impact of climate change on the energy sector in 5. Conclusions

general [141] and the energy use in the built environment in
particular [73] have highlighted the vulnerability of energy We have reviewed works pertinent to ZEBs (zero energy
systems and buildings to climate change. Specific to ZEBs, it has buildings) and discussed sustainable development implications.
been found that though yearly variations in total building en- The conclusions are:
ergy use are relatively small, the impact of energy excess and
storage issues in relation to the zero energy target is significant.  There is a growing interest in the potential of ZEBs to help
Multi-year simulation taking climate change into consideration alleviate the problems concerning the depletion of energy re-
should be used for climate-sensitive ZEBs design and analysis sources and the deterioration of the environment. Broadly
[142]. This is in contrast to the representative weather year (e.g. speaking, ZEBs involve two strategies e minimizing the need
TMY (typical meteorological year) and TPCY (typical principal for energy use in buildings through EEMs (energy-efficient
component year)) usually adopted for hourly building energy measures) and adopting RETs (renewable energy and other
simulation analysis [143]. This leads to the question of climate technologies) to meet the remaining energy needs.
model selection. For instance, Wan et al. [144] compared the  Among the EEMs highlighted, several salient features have been
performance of five GCMs (general circulation models) in identified. First, thermal insulation is less effective in cooling-
terms DBT (dry-bulb temperature), WBT (wet-bulb tempera- dominated buildings with large internal heat loads in warmer
ture) and GSR (global solar radiation) in different climate climates. Attention should be paid to avoid over-insulation,
zones. A model comparison is shown in Table 3. It can be seen which could result in an increase in energy use for space condi-
that performance of the five models could vary greatly in tioning. Second, reflective/green roofs might not be appropriate
different climate zones and for different meteorological vari- for ZEBs because of the conflicting roof space requirements with
ables. More work on the selection of climate models appro- renewable energy such as PVs and wind turbines. Third,
priate for building energy simulation studies is required. daylighting and recent advance in lighting technologies (e.g.
Furthermore, in recent years there have been many studies on dimmable electronic ballasts, digital controls and LED lamps)
district heating but very little on district cooling. Global have great energy-saving potential. Fourth, more work on post-
warming will lead to less heating requirements especially in occupancy surveys is needed to establish whether a wider in-
colder climates and vice versa in warmer climates for cooling door temperature range would be acceptable.
requirements. Therefore, more efforts should be directed to a  RETs cover photovoltaic/building-integrated photovoltaic,
better understanding of the cost- and environment- wind turbines, solar thermal (solar water heaters), heat pumps,
effectiveness of district cooling particularly in the context of and district heating/cooling. In general, most of the RETs are
urban and city planning. In addition, solar-powered cooling, rather well established. However, the wide diffusion of PV and
though not yet widely adopted, has good energy-saving and wind turbines generation may cause, among other things, po-
mitigation potential especially in hot climates because building wer instability and compromise the quality of existing power
peak cooling load and maximum solar intensity tend to occur grid structure. ZEBs should ideally be designed to function in
at about the same time [73,145,146]. synergy with the local utility grid and not putting extra stress
 Social policy issues e energy is a key component in any overall on the existing power infrastructure. More work on “smart
sustainable development strategy, and it is important to grids” and grid stability is required.
monitor the effects of energy policy in the social, economic and  ZEBs will play an increasingly important role in sustainable
environmental dimensions. The main drivers of key indicators development. To enhance this, more works in three areas are
of energy demand developed in most energy use and emissions required e life-cycle cost and environmental impacts analysis,
forecast studies are socio-economic parameters [147,148]. It climate change, and social policy issues.
has been argued that a positive attitude towards energy and
sustainability needs to be encouraged and maintained among Acknowledgements
the general public. “Economic and environmental vision”
should be accompanied by an equally important “social vision” The work described in this paper was fully supported by a Public
[7,149,150]. For instance, a recent case study on a grid- Policy Research Exercise grant from the Research Grants Council of
connected PV system in subtropical Hong Kong has shown the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, China [Project no.
that, based on economic ground alone, PV is not viable due to 9056002 (CityU 1011-PPR-10)].
the long payback period of over 70 years. However, if the
embodied energy is taken into account, the payback period is
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