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Planning for net-zero energy communities by using a holistic approach

Sustainable net-zero energy (NZE) communities are popping up around the United States. These areas take advantage of energy efficient buildings, solar power panels, and other renewable energy sources to power homes and businesses and still maintain a net-zero balance at the end of the year.

Even though this is a remarkable and eco-friendly achievement in of itself, the yearly net-zero averages don’t necessarily account for energy fluctuations that could be impacting cost or voltage limits.

Researchers from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado, the University of Colorado, and North Carolina State University created a new centralized modeling framework that considers both the supply and demand side of energy required for a net-zero community.

The new framework could help create new NZE communities that ensure reliable energy production for the lowest possible cost with a centralized management system.

“We had a unique partnership between electric utility suppliers, building developers, landowners and other stakeholders, which enabled us to look at this from a holistic perspective and come up with a solution that is better for everyone at a lower total cost,” said Bri-Mathias Hodge, the leader of the study.

The researchers combined energy efficiency modeling with power distribution software and modeled the energy requirements for a 100-building solar-powered residential district, which is currently being planned in Denver, Colorado.

The researchers factored in potential energy fluctuations at 15-minute intervals and went through a range of scenarios to achieve maximum cost-effectiveness without hindering energy production or supply.

“The surprising thing was the magnitude of difference, from the power system perspective, between balancing NZE on the annual compared to the 15-minute basis,” said Hodge.

Alternative energy sources would be required to power grids during the evenings and the winter when there is less daylight.

The researchers also found that installing advanced solar power inverter control systems to convert solar energy would help keep costs down.

The framework and analysis were published in the Journal of Renewable and Sustainable Energy, and already NZE district planners are hoping to use the framework for their own developments.

By Kay Vandette, Staff Writer

Image Credit: Shutterstock/esbobeldijk

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