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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Zero Net Energy Myths and Modes of Thought

  • Author(s): Rajkovich, Nicholas B.
  • et al.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), and a number of professional organizations have established a target of zero net energy (ZNE) in buildings by 2030. One definition of ZNE is a building with greatly reduced needs for energy through efficiency gains with the balance of energy needs supplied by renewable technologies. The push to ZNE is a response to research indicating that atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased sharply since the eighteenth century, resulting in a gradual warming of the Earth?s climate. A review of ZNE policies reveals that the organizations involved frame the ZNE issue in diverse ways, resulting in a wide variety of myths and a divergent set of epistemologies. With federal and state money poised to promote ZNE, it is timely to investigate how epistemologies, meaning a belief system by which we take facts and convert them into knowledge upon which to take action, and the propagation of myths might affect the outcome of a ZNE program. This paper outlines myths commonly discussed in the energy efficiency and renewable energy communities related to ZNE and describes how each myth is a different way of expressing "the truth." The paper continues by reviewing a number of epistemologies common to energy planning, and concludes that the organizations involved in ZNE should work together to create a "collaborative rationality" for ZNE. Through this collaborative framework it is argued that we may be able to achieve the ZNE and greenhouse gas mitigation targets.

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