Think Microgrid Warns DOE’s Zero Emission Building Definition Ignores Microgrids

July 2, 2024
In an open letter to Department of Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, Think Microgrid, a policy advocacy group for the microgrid industry, said the department’s new zero emissions building definition prohibits microgrids and other distributed energy resilience technologies from serving as solutions to the DOE’s stated priorities around decarbonization, resilience and modernization of the electric grid.

Think Microgrid, a policy advocacy group for the microgrid industry, released an open letter to Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Jennifer Granholm today, calling attention to what it calls “the unfortunate impacts and missed opportunities” of the Zero Emissions Building (ZEB) definition released by the DOE June 6.

The National Definition of a Zero Emissions Building is the result of the DOE’s efforts to standardize the minimum criteria it says will enable residential and commercial buildings to achieve the administration’s goal of reducing building emissions by 65% by 2035 and 90% by 2050.

The definition requires that ZEBs not emit greenhouse gases directly from on-site energy sources. They must also be highly energy efficient and powered exclusively by clean energy.

However, Think Microgrid believes the definition prohibits microgrids and other distributed energy resilience technologies from serving as solutions to the DOE’s stated priorities around decarbonization, resilience and modernization of the electric grid.

“The definition prohibits any emissions from on-site resources, which on the surface seems reasonable for a ‘zero emissions building,’ but then creates an exemption for backup power and power from off-site resources,” said Cameron Brooks, executive director of Think Microgrid.

In other words, buildings can purchase renewable energy credits to offset grid emissions and can use fossil fuel-powered backup systems, but low-carbon distributed energy and microgrid technologies do not meet the DOE’s definition of a zero emissions building.

“We don’t think it’s appropriate or helpful to turn a blind eye to these real emissions when better solutions are available,” Brooks said.

Three primary concerns

In its letter, Think Microgrid outlined three primary concerns with the new ZEB definition:

  • Because it assumes the traditional power grid is the cleanest source of electricity, the definition will lead to the reactivation of high-emitting fossil fuel-powered grid resources, which are often sited in disadvantaged communities. This will further exacerbate historical inequities.
  • The definition exempts backup generation, which is traditionally provided by fossil fuel-powered generators, while also prohibiting intelligent and resilient microgrids capable of prioritizing the cleanest energy source available.
  • Despite numerous examples of how microgrids across the country have reduced the risk to critical loads, the definition prohibits customers from utilizing intelligent resilience solutions and instead pushes reliance on an aging grid that is already struggling to keep up with the ever-increasing demand for electricity.

“The reality is that the Administration has issued an executive order directing agencies to move toward zero-emissions buildings based on this rule, so the effects will be far-reaching,” especially considering that it will likely be utilized as an industrywide standard, Brooks said.

“Unfortunately, by only allowing the status quo solutions, we will end up with ‘dumb’ backup power, providing no benefit to the overall grid.”

Think Microgrid hopes the DOE will “adjust the definition and correct its deficiencies.”

“Secretary Granholm has said we should be incentivizing communities to think about microgrids as alternatives to aging poles and wires and she’s right about that,” Brooks said. “DOE has said that microgrids are the essential building blocks of the future grid. The Loan Programs Office is helping finance these new solutions. And yet this definition works against those efforts.”

You can read Think Microgrid’s open letter to Secretary Grahnolm here.

Think Microgrid and Microgrid Knowledge are both owned by Endeavor Business Media.

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About the Author

Kathy Hitchens | Special Projects Editor

I work as a writer and special projects editor for Microgrid Knowledge. I have over 30 years of writing experience, working with a variety of companies in the renewable energy, electric vehicle and utility sector, as well as those in the entertainment, education, and financial industries. I have a BFA in Media Arts from the University of Arizona and a MBA from the University of Denver.

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