Resident engagement strategies in low and zero net energy communities

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Conference Proceedings


Most of the activity related to zero net-energy developments has focused on single buildings, and especially homes. But communities operating with low or zero net energy goals are increasingly getting attention because they offer economies of scale, benefit from diversity, and attract alternative sources of capital. We examined five low net energy sustainable communities in Europe, North America, and Japan. We focused on the institutional and behavioural aspects that these communities use to promote energy saving actions. Many of the traditional individual incentives for occupants to act in a sustainable way can operate differently in a community where people live and possibly even work. Energy bills – a traditional means of providing feedback to occupants – are sometimes absent because the cost of renewable energy sources has been rolled into the cost of construction, or is included as a fixed cost of rent. Some regions prohibit a community from assuming the role of a utility and charging occupants for energy use. Signals may be available that are not possible for individual households, such as when the community as a whole switches from being a net producer to net importer of energy, reaching of communal energy goals, or competitions for achievement of energy goals within the community. Residents in a ZNE community can differ from those in ZNE single homes. They sometimes elect to live in the community for practical reasons unrelated to the ZNE goals, such as affiliation to a university or an employer. Some may be unreceptive to practice vigilance or to reduce energy consumption, whereas others may have strong allegiances through previous and current networks, like their workplace; or through their own commitment to environmental values and organizations. The process of education and re-education rises in importance and variability: occupant turnover is a feature of student communities, whereas communities where residents are invested into both the house and the value system associated to it are likely to plan for long term life cycles. The designers of ZNE buildings may sometimes focus on energy-related technologies and consider occupant behaviour as an afterthought or an obstacle. We propose that early attention to the kind of target resident for each community and their potential scope of interactions with those new technologies is essential when creating community engagement strategies that will function in each community context. Examples are provided from four communities, with an in depth case study of a fifth ZNE community in the US.

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Hyeres, France