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OVERVIEW | Achieving near Zero and Positive Energy Settlements in Europe using Advanced Energy Technology

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By Marina LaskariMaria Saliari, Mat Santamouris – NKUA (National and Kapodistrian University of Athens) 


Buildings and settlements are increasingly expected to meet higher and potentially more complex levels of energy performance. In addition, buildings are central to Europe's climate and energy policies, including the European Commission's legislative proposals on clean energy. By 2020 all new buildings will be Nearly Zero Energy Buildings (NZEB), and in addition they should be healthy and comfortable, grid-friendly, yet economical to build and maintain. This overview article presents the scope and up-to-date results of the ZERO-PLUS Horizon 2020 innovation project "Achieving near Zero and Positive Energy Settlements in Europe using Advanced Energy Technology". The project aims to demonstrate new highly energy performing residential buildings via a comprehensive, cost-effective modular system for near Zero and Positive Energy settlements, which will be developed and implemented in a series of case studies across the EU. ZERO-PLUS is financially supported by the Energy-efficient Buildings Public-Private Partnership (EeB PPP).


The ZERO-PLUS concept 


ZERO-PLUS is a collaborative approach to the design and construction of residential settlements, involving technology providers, energy efficiency and renewable energy experts and developers who work together from the earliest stages of design.


The goal is to provide the market with an innovative, yet readily implementable system for Net Zero Energy (NZE) settlements that will significantly reduce their costs. The benefits of the analysis at the settlement level arise from looking at the larger scale compared to single buildings, and at a system of houses with their interactions. This means, for instance, cost reduction through the deployment of renewable energy technologies at the settlement level instead of individually in each building. The concept can expand to aspects such as efficient water systems, electro-mobility, etc.


ZERO-PLUS settlements exceed the state of the art by setting performance objectives requiring improvement relative to other energy efficient buildings:


  • Operational energy usage in residential buildings in a ZERO-PLUS settlement is reduced to an average of 0-20 kWh/m2 per year
  • The NZE settlement generates a minimum of 50 kWh/m2 of renewable energy per year
  • The investment cost of the ZERO-PLUS building is reduced by at least 16%, compared to a regular NZEB

By the end of the project four ZERO-PLUS settlements will be built. They are located in different countries (Cyprus, France, Italy and the UK) and consist of different typologies of residential buildings (ranging from villas to apartment buildings for social housing) thus demonstrating the adaptability and wide applicability of the ZERO-PLUS concept.


Progress so far


The project is at a stage where design has been completed and work is entering the implementation phase.


The ZERO-PLUS buildings have been calculated to achieve net regulated energy consumption below 20 kWh/m2/y and produce at least 50 kWh/m2/y. The cost of the ZERO-PLUS buildings is reduced by at least 16% compared to a reference building that has the same energy and environmental performance but does not benefit from:


  • energy reduction from advanced building envelope components;
  • energy reduction from the use of advanced energy management systems;
  • energy production by settlement level renewables;
  • energy reduction from improved microclimate.

The integrated design of the settlements went through technical and financial optimisation that resulted to the final configuration and size of the innovative systems and techniques. Before arriving to the final integrated design, significant design work was performed at building and at settlement level respectively. 


Synoptic diagram of the components of the proposed system

Synoptic diagram of the components of the proposed system


In order to ensure that the built result performs as designed, a significant amount of work has already been carried out. As part of the off-site manufacturing concept, design for X-methods were introduced as an appropriate product design methodology for off-site manufacturing. In tandem with this, guidelines and checklists resulting from the Design for Production, Design for Assembly, and Robot-Oriented Design analyses were presented to allow for the product design activities of ZERO-PLUS to be evaluated. A Process-oriented Information Modelling (PIM) concept has been introduced to assist a collaborative way of planning, designing, producing and assembling. Feasible solutions for the production, transportation, assembly, installation activities and life-cycle management of the selected energy producing products in each case study were developed. To test the proposed design concept and its assembly procedure, work is currently in progress for a full-scale mock-up of the chosen technology product that will be constructed. The physical design of the subsystems and of the interfaces that connect them to each other is coordinated, to ensure that they fit together properly and that the design contains no clashes between the different sub-systems.


A Cost Management programme to support the cost-effective design and execution of the case studies was developed and a Change Management process was defined to allow synchronised and collaborative work between all the key stakeholders during design and implementation. A Just In Time (JIT) supply logistics plan has been developed and the necessary parameters and information regarding the site plan of each of the four case studies, both for the buildings as well as for the settlements were set out. A location-based schedule was prepared for each case study to be considered during onsite assembly, and a building commissioning plan for each of the settlements related to the production, installation and acceptance phases was designed. For the purposes of monitoring and evaluation of the settlements’ performance an alpha version of a Web-GIS monitoring & performance analysis platform was delivered while a first draft of the Monitoring and Verification plan for the settlements has also been developed. 


The ZERO-PLUS monitoring platform


A market analysis of trends in the construction of residential highly energy performing buildings determined the following:


  • Market dynamics in terms of current levels of new building construction
  • Drivers and barriers to various business models in the market
  • Key companies involved in production, distribution and installation
  • Industry trends in terms of the technologies and processes identified

An Exploitation Strategy Seminar was held with the help of the EU-funded Support Services for Exploitation of Research Results (SSERR). The seminar identified key exploitable project results; the project partners that should invest their time and effort in each result; the intentions of each partner with regard to the dissemination and use of results; and conflicts of interest and weaknesses in the exploitation plan. Additionally, an analysis of the business case for the technology developed within the project and on the market potential within the EU 28 has been performed.


The future of the ZERO-PLUS concept


The focus of ZERO-PLUS is on demonstration and deployment of innovative technologies for NZEB. Through the efforts to address cost reductions and demonstration of NZE buildings and districts, the project will contribute to bring innovations to the market. The project spans the gap between product/technology push, and market/demand pull. The ZERO-PLUS concept will integrate a range of technologies that are innovative yet sufficiently mature to be implemented in demonstration projects, with a Technology Readiness Level (TRL) of at least 7.


ZERO-PLUS innovative technologies (energy conservation): freescoo HVAC by SolarInvent


ZERO-PLUS innovative technologies (energy conservation): Insulation (XPS) technology

ZERO-PLUS innovative technologies (energy conservation): XPS insulation by FIBRAN



ZERO-PLUS innovative technologies (energy management): REACT by ABB


ZERO-PLUS innovative technologies (energy production): FAE HCPV by ARCA


ZERO-PLUS innovative technologies (energy production): SolarBlocks by SBskin


ZERO-PLUS innovative technologies (energy production): WindRail C30 by Anerdgy


Project results will contribute to the development of a market for new buildings in the EU that will comply with the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) obligations and thus meet ‘nearly zero-energy’ performance levels. The innovative technologies developed will reduce the cost barrier to market uptake of such buildings by being more affordable than the current state of the art. Solutions will be developed and demonstrated that will enable significant acceleration of the uptake of such buildings in the market.


Measures to maximise impact are integrated seamlessly into the project as a whole. The various building components under development are being designed to respond to the needs of the market, and a sample business plan is being constantly updated over the lifetime of the project. This business plan will be a starting point for companies planning to exploit the project’s outputs to expand their participation in the market for NZEB.