New research looks into cost, performance and indoor air quality in ZNE homes

The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) launched two research efforts over the summer to help the state meet its zero net energy (ZNE) residential building goals. One project will provide detailed cost and performance modeling of ZNE homes including assessments of how demand response and energy storage can help cost effectiveness. The second project will examine indoor air quality in ZNE homes that use natural gas. The California Energy Commission (CEC) is providing $2 million in funding for the two projects. The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Building America program is also supporting the air quality project, the results of which will inform DOE’s Zero Energy Ready Home program.

Future homes: gas or electric or both?
Getting to zero net energy usually involves both reducing demand as well as providing onsite energy generation, often with solar panels. However, different building types present different barriers to adoption, whether technical or economic. The study will analyze the cost-effectiveness of various approaches to lowering energy use in single family and multifamily homes, such as comparing all-electric homes to those with gas-based heating. It intends to deliver modeling and scenario results for various climate zones across California.

“If we want to achieve deep carbon reductions then ultimately we want to sharply reduce or eliminate natural gas consumption,” said Max Wei, a Berkeley Lab researcher leading the second project. “Another key modeling area is energy storage and demand response and how these could be implemented to lower overall costs.” LBNL researchers will also investigate the cost implications of an entire neighborhood or community that does not have any natural gas infrastructure as well as options on how to implement offsite renewable generation such as community or shared solar resources that are nearby, but not onsite.

DOE Research
Brett Singer (left) helps lead Berkeley Lab’s research on range hoods and indoor air quality.  Credit: LBNL

Mitigating kitchen pollutants
The second LBNL study will examine how to ventilate ZNE homes with gas-based appliances in order to maintain indoor air quality given ZNE homes use an airtight envelope. Pollutants in the kitchen are generated both from cooking food as well as from the burners themselves, especially gas burners. LBNL researchers have found hazardous levels of pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter in kitchens especially where the range hood is not properly utilized.

“This project will help the state to set requirements for kitchen ventilation that effectively solves the problem of cooking-related pollutants,” said LBNL research Brett Singer. “We will study it experimentally and through simulation.” This study builds on LBNL’s work on indoor air quality and will help determine whether California’s building code, which currently has a minimum airflow requirement for range hoods, should be adjusted for improved health outcomes and energy savings.

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