What is a Nearly zero energy building? Overview, implementation and comparison of definitions

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The reduction of energy consumption in buildings is an important pillar of the European strategy to ensure that future climate and energy targets are reached.

This paper focuses on the definition of Nearly zero energy buildings (NZEBs) that represent one of the greatest opportunities to increase energy savings in Europe. As this term appears to be subject to different interpretations, the paper explores the NZEB literature to provide an overview of definitions. The analysis underlines inconsistencies and critical issues among them. The paper also assesses the progress of the NZEB implementation in Europe, and compares the EU-NZEBs and the US-NZEBs definitions.


The main debates arisen around NZEBs are evaluated. Among these topics, there are: the distinction between energy and primary energy, and between energy sources and energy carriers. A focus is also due to metrics and primary energy conversion factors. Special attention is provided in defining primary energy factors for energy carriers produced from renewable energy sources on site, nearby or far.


After specifying the role of “plus” buildings, a complementary energy index, useful for defining incentives for buildings is formulated to overcome the questioning on the “negative” primary energy index that can be achieved using some of current net ZEB definitions. A proposal for clarifying the meaning of near zero, zero and plus energy buildings is also given. The analysis highlights that, although the attention given to NZEBs increased over the last years, the NZEB topic is still under discussion and not uniformly implemented.