'Net-zero' homes to model the benefits of renewable energy

'Net-zero' homes to model the benefits of renewable energy

A partnership between a renewable energy home coalition and the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corp (CMHC) is aimed at creating 12 model homes across the country that will showcase the benefits of solar, wind and geothermal power.

20 different developers, all members of the Net-Zero Building Coalition, have applied to construct the 12 homes, which, using solar and/or geo-thermal energy sources, could produce as much energy as that consumed.

Net-zero homes remain tied to utility grids and can supply the grid with surplus energy. Electricity for the home would be generated by solar photovoltaic panels or wind turbines while the heat and hot water would be generated by solar thermal or geothermal energy.

Gordon Shields, coalition coordinator, says that as the coalition pressures the CMHC to speed-up the application process, it looks to expand and influence developers and builders nation-wide.

“Our effort is ultimately to build an industry,” says Shields, adding that continued partnering with homebuilders, industry associations and environmental organizations is the key to this effort.

The 12 homes will be built in different regions of Canada, to test their applicability to various climates. Their costs will be covered by the CMHC and preliminary design plans are expected to be finished by late November so that construction can begin in early 2007.

According to Anand Mishra, a senior research advisor for the CMHC based in Calgary, all future housing development in Canada should be environmentally sustainable.

“Housing is responsible for 17 percent of energy use and 16 percent of greenhouse gas emissions,” Mishar told the Calgary Herald.

“Our long term goal is to have every new home built to net-zero specifications and to have existing homes renovated to net-zero. This will help us in reducing our energy costs and greenhouse gas emissions. It all links to environment.”

Unfortunately, Canada has a lot of catching up in building renewable energy homes to match that of other countries in the West. Canada still lags behind the US and Europe in sustainable housing initiatives.

“It’s frustrating that we haven’t stepped up,” says Shields. “We’re even behind the U.S. Of course, Europe is ahead of everybody.”