Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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An exploration of the feasibility of converting the New Zealand commercial building stock to be Net Zero Energy

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posted on 2021-11-26, 00:05 authored by Shaan Cory
This thesis explores the feasibility of converting the current New Zealand commercial building stock to Net Zero Energy (NZE). The analysis presented is grounded in real building performance and construction information. The goal was to establish results that are as realistic as possible to actual building performance. The Net Zero Energy Building (Net ZEB) concept is one of many low energy building movements that respond to the issues of climate change and energy security. The Net ZEB concept strives to reduce demand for energy and then to offset any residual energy consumption with non-CO2 emitting renewable energy technologies. The (re-)design focus for Net ZEBs is to reduce annual energy consumption to be equal to or less than any generated renewable energy. This is an important concept since approximately 40 percent of all energy and emissions worldwide are building related. If all buildings were designed and operated to be NZE, the existing energy can be used by other sectors which will increase energy security. Conversely, reducing the fossil fuel CO2 producing component of the energy consumed by buildings has the benefit of negating building’s contribution to climate change. The Net ZEB concept assumes each building is grid-connected, and balances the energy taken from the grid against the energy put back into the grid over a year. This study exploits the available synergies of the grid connection to achieve NZE for the whole building stock. Thus each individual building does not need to be NZE at the site, but they act as a community to reach NZE collectively. Furthermore, any grid-tied renewable energy does not need to be offset, only the non-renewable portion. A NZE target was calculated to determine the percentage reduction in current energy consumption needed before the current commercial building stock could be considered NZE. It was found that a 45 percent reduction in primary energy would offset all non-renewable CO2 emitting energy supply currently consumed by the New Zealand commercial building stock. Previous studies assessing whether converting an entire stock of commercial buildings to NZE is possible used prototypical building energy models. Prototypical models represent a hypothetical average building and have many assumptions about the way a building is operated. This thesis develops a method that takes a representative sample of real commercial buildings and makes calibrated energy models that can be aggregated to represent energy consumption for all commercial buildings in New Zealand. The developed calibration method makes use of as-built building information and a standardised procedure for identifying the inaccurate model inputs which need to be corrected for a building energy model to be calibrated. To further base the process in reality, a set of Energy Conservation Measures (ECM) that had been implemented in real Net ZEBs worldwide was adopted for the proposed retrofits. These ECMs were combined into Net ZEB solution sets for retrofitting the aggregated commercial building models. Optimisation of the Net ZEB solution sets was performed on hundreds of models to maximise energy savings. It took over six months for all of the optimisations to be completed. This thesis demonstrates the estimated New Zealand commercial building stock’s energy consumption based upon the calibrated energy models was robust by comparing it to an external estimate. It shows that NZE can be achieved by applying well understood Net ZEB solution sets to the New Zealand commercial building stock. 96 percent of the NZE goal is attainable just through demand reduction without the use of onsite renewable energy generation. The additional four percent of reduction required to meet NZE is easily attainable with onsite renewable generation. Another benefit is that the retrofitted commercial buildings will provide improved thermal comfort for the occupants. Having established NZE was possible, this thesis concludes with an analysis of the broader implications of achieving the NZE goal. It identifies the next step would be to design a NZE commercial building stock that reduces the stresses on the existing energy infrastructure. The Solution Set adopted was not developed with the interaction of the building and electrical grid in mind. To have a practical implementation of NZE will require costing and community prioritisation. This would be the next phase of work assessing nationwide NZE retrofit.


Copyright Date



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License


Degree Discipline

Building Science

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

ANZSRC Socio-Economic Outcome code

850701 Commercial Energy Conservation and Efficiency

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code


Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Architecture


Donn, Michael; Baird, George