This summer, with fires, floods, and heat waves around the globe, climate disruption is on top of many people’s minds. Widespread adoption of zero energy homes and buildings will make a huge contribution towards reducing our carbon footprint, but to realize their full benefit, they need to be part of a much broader, integrated approach – something  Hal Harvey of Energy Innovation calls “The Four Zeros.”  According to Harvey, The Four Zeros include:


  • A zero-carbon grid. With alternative energy and storage systems, we have started on the path toward reducing carbon emissions from the electric grid. This combination of renewable generation and energy storage is on the way to becoming the least-cost energy resource. Going all of the way to a zero emission grid will require that we greatly increase zero emission power sources and storage systems as well as utilizing a range of innovative technologies that enhance flexibility. Utility-scale installations are necessary along with decentralized, consumer-driven projects that are integrated with the grid. With a flexible zero-carbon grid, we would eventually be able to electrify everything – carbon free.
  • Zero-emission transportation. We have the technology for electric vehicles (EVs), and more major automobile manufacturers are coming out with new EV models with longer ranges. Currently, most EVs charge at the owners’ homes. For daily commutes, this is the ultimate in convenience, but it means most EVs are currently “second cars” not suitable for long trips. We need to build out the public charging facilities with fast chargers in order to increase demand for electric vehicles. By combining electric vehicles and electric public transportation with a zero-carbon grid or zero-positive buildings, we will have a zero-carbon transportation system.
  • Zero-carbon/zero-energy buildings. All the technologies for zero energy buildings are off the shelf and readily available. Measured by the total cost of ownership, zero carbon buildings are cost competitive and usually cost less to own. Additionally, health and comfort benefits may be even more significant, but are difficult to quantify or express in monetary terms. California and Oregon have now mandated that all new construction get on the path to zero after 2020.
  • Zero-waste manufacturing. Waste squanders energy and increases carbon emissions. New manufacturing techniques, such as 3-D printing, advanced engineering, and advanced chemistry, can significantly reduce waste. The product design stage is essential to success here. Manufacturers can design and build products that use less raw materials and that are easily disassembled and recycled. For example, some innovative grocery stores are now only selling packaging-free products in their stores.


For our society to successfully shift to The Four Zeros, we will all need to make changes in our personal and professional lives. Those of us involved in zero energy buildings are leaders driving this shift. At the same time, we all need to be moving toward the other three zeroes: purchasing an electric vehicle when buying a car, walking and biking when feasible, reusing and recycling wherever possible, and purchasing products with less or no packaging and with a lower waste/carbon footprint, are steps we should all take.

We may also want to consider becoming more politically active in support of moving our society toward The Four Zeros. As suggested by Thomas Friedman in his recent New York Times editorial, advocating for a carbon tax or some form of carbon pricing would certainly put The Four Zeros on the front burner in elections. There are so many ways to help our country move faster towards becoming a zero net carbon society. Let’s get started!