UC Davis wants new housing to be affordable and net-zero energy

The idea that green buildings can make financial as well as environmental sense is central to California's plans to fight global warming.

Now, a housing project at the University of California, Davis, will test whether it works on a large scale, using a $2 million grant awarded Monday by the California Energy Commission.

The goal is to make the new 4,000-resident West Village student and faculty housing development the nation's largest "zero net energy" community — one that produces as much energy in a year as it draws from natural gas pipelines and the electrical grid. With enough money, it's fairly straightforward to meet that standard. Doing it in a large, privately financed development is another matter.

We're trying to figure out what is feasible," said Nolan Zail, principal partner with West Village Community Partnership, the project developer.

The grant will fund analysis and design work aimed at optimizing the mix of renewable energy technologies in the community — from photovoltaic panels and solar hot water heaters to an electricity-generating fuel cell run on gas made from campus food scraps.

The West Village buildings are already designed to be very efficient, with heat-reflecting roofs and ventilation systems that take advantage of cool summer evening breezes. The grant would help Zail figure out how much additional efficiency he needs to wring out of the buildings – by upgrading insulation or windows, for instance – as well as the most cost-effective approach. The analysis will also explore new ways to finance green building technologies, which generally pay for themselves over time but carry high up-front costs.

The project will also examine how residents use energy, a poorly documented area in the energy-efficiency field.

Read the full story at