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Zero Energy Green Buildings Begin with Geothermal Heat Pumps

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  • January 6, 2014

As the U.S. market for green building design and construction evolves, we are hearing much more lately about so called “Net-Zero Energy” buildings. Homes and commercial buildings that earn the “Net-Zero” badge of honor do so by demonstrating extremely high-performance in energy efficiency. To qualify as Net-Zero, a building must be able to prove that its total annualized energy-related operating costs are brought down to $0.00. Some net-zero buildings even produce more energy than they consume in a year, generating positive cash flow. These impressive feats are made possible via careful implementation of innovative architectural designs and detailed construction strategies – including smart integration of on-site renewable energy systems, especially geothermal heat pump technology.

The best of the best zero energy buildings are developed using a combination of smart passive solar design, extreme attention to detail in the construction of the building envelope and insulation systems, and intelligently designed and correctly sized and installed geothermal, solar PV, and solar thermal systems. Aggressive energy efficiency strategies, combined with geothermal heat pump systems, are by far the largest contributors to the ability of a building to reach zero energy nirvana in most climate zones by nature of their 24/7, rain or shine performance. Any building project attempting to achieve net-zero performance should always consider geothermal heating and cooling. In fact, it is extremely rare to hear of a truly net-zero building that does not implement some type of geothermal HVAC strategy.

A new state-of-the-art Walgreens retail store to be built in Evanston, Illinois (pictured above) is a great example of how net-zero green buildings are going mainstream. Walgreens believes that this experimental pilot store will be the United States’ first net-zero retail store, and will serve as model for the retailer’s other 8,000 store locations. It really doesn’t get much more mainstream than that. Check out the official Walgreens website for more information on this great project.

Aside from saving lots of money every year on operating costs, Walgreens believes that their pursuit of green technology can have a significant positive impact on the nation’s environment. Walgreens plans to generate electricity and reduce its usage by more than 40 percent through several technologies in the store including:

  • more than 800 roof-top solar panels,
  • two wind turbines,
  • geothermal energy obtained by drilling 550-feet into the ground below the store, where temperatures are more steady and can be tapped to heat or cool the store in winter and summer,
  • LED lighting and daylight harvesting,
  • carbon dioxide refrigerant for heating, cooling and refrigeration equipment,
  • and energy efficient building materials.

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