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Net Zero: A Dream Or A Reality For Office Buildings?

While reducing energy consumption and moving toward net zero are great in theory, a lot of these concepts rely heavily on tenant behavior and collaboration. Developers and owners can build more energy-efficient buildings, but if tenants push the plug load to the max, net zero will always be beyond reach.


During a recent Bisnow event, panelists discussed how building owners can strive toward net zero and better ways to work with tenants to reach energy goals.

Net zero means a building is generating as much energy as it consumes over the course of a year, said Peter Turnbull, Pacific Gas and Electric principal of commercial buildings and zero net energy program manager. Different characteristics can be used, but any way energy metrics are zeroed out, owners get a better building that costs less to operate and is healthier for tenants, he said.


To get started on a path to net zero, Turnbull said consumption needs to be brought down, which will lead to less need for renewable energy. He said setting a target, building to that target and then monitoring what is happening in the building is a successful way for buildings to target net zero. Reducing consumption also has ancillary benefits. These buildings often have high tenant demand because they are neater buildings and often command higher rent.


LinkedIn is targeting net zero in the building it owns in Sunnyvale. The 1980s-style concrete tilt-up originally was dark, had a low roof, and was not inviting or environmentally appealing, said Peggy Brannigan, LinkedIn program manager of global environmental sustainability. LinkedIn renovated it within 10 months, cut out a section of the roof to bring in daylight and reinforced the roof so it could hold solar, she said.

She said her team quickly learned it was key to have a better understanding of who is occupying the building. Consumption was originally forecast for one computer tower running for a certain number of hours each day per employee. Instead, the tenant employed software engineers who had two towers each running 24/7.

“We had to double-down and look at ways we could drive efficiencies and work with the occupants,” Brannigan said.

Part of that process meant giving tenants a bigger picture of why having a net zero building is important to the company's overall strategy to go 100% carbon neutral and 100% renewable energy.


Lucid Connects founder and president Vladi Shunturov said his firm is providing ways to better monitor energy consumption in buildings. Buildings produce about a million data points each day and most of it is not captured, he said. His firm captures the data to provide information about the potential of a building and how it is actually performing. He said the most important step after getting energy consumption down is to take the existing infrastructure and find ways to incorporate it more efficiently.


Net zero hits some roadblocks when it comes to large buildings. Kilroy Realty senior vice president Sara Neff said net zero is not a realistic goal for large buildings, but they benefit from knowledge developed around net zero. Instead of trying to get individual buildings to net zero, Kilroy Realty looks at the concept holistically and tries to get net zero within its portfolio.