If anybody tells you that having a net-zero energy home is impossible, do not trust them. They either live in denial or are simply very wrong. One year long test-trial, conducted by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) ended with energy to spare, even after a very harsh winter season.
Exactly a year ago, a group of scientists at NIST decided to build a 252 sq m (2,700 sq ft) test house right in the middle of the campus (see video here). They made it look like a real living place inhabited by an average family of four, who watch TV, charge gadgets, shower, clean dishes, and do everything that four people do on daily basis. The difference from the regular houses that one can see in a neighborhood, however, is that this is a clean energy laboratory constructed with the purpose to establish whether a net-zero home is a realistic option.
The energy consumption is tested using a computer simulator, that acts as the energy users, while energy is generated by 32 solar panels. In addition, the house is equipped with geothermal systems to optimize heating and cooling, and it is properly insulated using special self-healing sheeting.
The results of the test after only a year were remarkable. Despite the fact that the solar panels were covered with ice and snow for more than a month during winter, preventing them to generate any power, the experiment ended with a surplus energy of 491kWh. This, as the engineers behind the project state, is enough to power an average electric vehicle for about 2,317 km (1,440 miles).
The research group identified only one, but very relevant, limitation, and that is the cost upfront. Although the annual savings on electricity cost are quite significant, $4,373 to be exact, building such house and adding all the extras to it, would cost just over $162,000.
Having said that, the researchers are far from ending their project. Their next aim is to find how to improve the energy efficiency of the house, reduce the initial costs and estimate long term savings.
Image (c) NIST