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Net Zero Energy and Net Zero Water – What that could mean to our Future?

My heart goes out to all that have been affected by Sandy and mostly to my fellow Tri-State Families.  I have been living in NY and NYC metro area most of my life and have never seen such destruction and turmoil.  The initial storm has created major destruction but the aftermath of what we are facing is the challenge.  The major element that is causing the most damage to date is loss of power to families and businesses.  All over the Tri-State area gas stations and stores that supply basic amenities are not able to open because lack of power.  This has been causing a domino effect as people are panicking to not be able to find these supplies. The gas stations that do have power have run out of fuel and the ones that do, cannot utilize their supplies.  In most communities one fallen tree knocked out power for the whole neighborhood and the power companies are overwhelmed to be able to get to these areas still after 7 days of no power and heat for the people living in these communities.  Power was not the only worry but water contamination as well, certain municipalities had their communities boiling water before use as they were not sure of the contamination to the water supply. Some of these people were not able to do that as they had electric stoves and lack of power. These are but a few examples of the chain reaction we face and will face in the coming years.

Our climate is changing and we as a people need to accept it, start seeing how we will need to build and develop our future infrastructure to fit this change.  Listening to the news and radio over the past week I have heard conversations about possible changes to do this, governors are asked why not put power lines below ground.  One governor answered, and others agreed, that the cost is too expensive.  Another stated that they have looked into it and it would be $1,000,000 per mile to do so.  We need to start looking outside the box to bring on change; this is why I am pushing for the creation of “Living Buildings”. Imagine if individual homes, businesses and buildings produced their own power and supplied any access back to the grid, cleaned and purified its own water; everything leaving the building would be clean and healthy for the surrounding areas.  So if during a storm a tree fell or electrical damage was to happen a few miles away from a Living Site, that site would not be effected.  The home, building or community would be self-sufficient and depend only on itself to produce its own electricity and purify the water that it uses.

The technologies and expertise to create these types of sites are here.  We as a society can make it happen; we just need to start using our voice to make it so.  What would Net Zero Energy mean to us in such situations?

Net Zero is when a building or home produces its own energy, this can be designed in many ways depending on the site; but ultimately the site would be designed with the highest energy efficiency and the use of clean energy technology for example, solar, wind, heat recovery, etc. So the site would be dependent on its’ own function to produce energy and if extra is produced, this can be stored as back-up and/or sold back to the grid.  This is not only for single building sites but would also be great for communities.  If these design and technological measures are implemented in the vision and development of community planning we can alleviate a lot of the damage our future climate will be sending our way.  These sites could also be designed to store extra power for a two week supply, let’s say, and help ease the stress on the communities and give the time for the experts to fix what problems or damage that might occur during a storm.

Now let us look at Net Zero Water in conjunction with the energy equation.  After Sandy hit the Tri-State area some water supplies were contaminated.   Some municipalities had to ask families to boil water before use so they would not be sick.  Unfortunately, the storm knocked out power to large area, that most of the population was not able to boil the water to purify it.  This has caused people to face even tougher times then the loss of electricity. If we start to look ahead and start designing with Net Zero Water in mind, then some of these problems might be avoided in the future.  Also remember we need energy to pump water from one area to the next, for example NYC supply is from upstate NY then they go back to treatment plants located in different locations. Looking at Net Zero Water, we are also designing to alleviating water that is going back into the system that causes flooding. This is another big issue we are facing after the this storm.

Net Zero Water can be done in many ways, as its energy counterpart but strategies would depend on the site.  Some of these strategies could be a combination of rainfall harvesting, aggressive conservation, and water recycling. Buildings can achieve self-sufficiency from the water “gird” and have Net Zero Water. Rainwater is relatively clean, and can be converted into drinking water with a minimum of processing.

Gray water can be cleaned by filtering it through a biological waste-water treatment system such as the Living Machine, a sort of wetland in a box containing plants, bacteria, plankton, even snails and clams where organisms remove contaminants such as organic matter and heavy metals.  By the time the water reaches the final pool, it is clean enough to be reintroduced into the watershed.  These are but some examples of what can be done at sites to produce clean drinkable and reusable water that we do not have to worry about contaminants from other parts of the community, town or state.

Its time we started to rethink our way of building and start implementing Net Zero philosophy in what we build.  I would like to conclude with a quote “Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending” by Maria Robinson. I think this is a great quote because it is what we must do now, as individuals, business owners, developers, community leaders and society at large.  It is time for us to start creating a better ending for us and our future generations.