Net-Zero Lab Tackles Energy Crisis By Creating As Much Power As It Consumes

The net-zero lab is the US government’s answer to the looming energy crisis, a home that actually creates as much energy as it consumes over the course of a year. The next step? Actually getting people to live there.

For the researchers involved, the net-zero lab is a grand experiment of sorts. Named because it would have a carbon footprint of zero, the laboratory for now is located on an unassuming hillside outside of Washington, D.C., Reuters reports.

For now, the net-zero lab is unoccupied, its 4,000 square feet instead filled with sensors and computer programs made to replicate a family of four: two working parents, a 14-year-old, and an 8-year-old.

The program will simulate everyday activities like moving from room to room, taking a bath, or turning on a computer and is so detailed that even the shower is gauged differently depending on which family member is inside. The 14-year-old will take the longest showers.

The appliances really do exist, Reuters noted, and are controlled from a command center located in a detached garage.

Located on a suburban campus of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the net-zero lab is seen as a good way to tackle the energy crisis.

“This family is very cooperative, they do exactly what we want them to do, every minute of the day,” Hunter Fanney, chief of NIST’s Building Environment Lab, said at the project’s official launch last week.

Energy in the net-zero lab comes from solar panels on the roof. The house is also surrounded by a deep layer of gravel that will collect rainwater.

Something close to the net-zero lab was created for actual use in Concord, Massachusetts for $600,000, and Habitat for Humanity has a nearly net-zero home for $150,000, though it is smaller than the one in Washington.

The net-zero lab is also a success story of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, more commonly know as the stimulus. President Obama made environmentally friendly construction a priority for the stimulus, so nearly every part of the net-zero lab was made in the United States.

For the first year, the net-zero lab is intended to demonstrate that such a high-tech home can fit into any normal neighborhood, NIST reported on its website. Once the year-long experiment has completed, the home will be used to test existing and new energy efficient technologies and find ways to make them a better fit for a home rather than a laboratory.