Zero Net Energy vs Zero Emissions: Which is better?

‘Zero net energy’ versus ‘zero emissions’, which wins the most environmentally friendly battle?

The two terms seem to denote something similar, and upon the release of Byron Bay’s commitment to becoming a ‘zero emissions community’ by 2025 just months after the other Northern NSW regional town of Uralla’s declaration to become the state’s first Zero Net Energy Town (ZNET), we at KNSWB were a little confused. What’s the difference? Is one better than the other? If so, why?

Technically speaking, there is a difference. The Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council states that for a building to be classed as zero net energy, it must ‘produce at least as much emissions-free renewable energy as it uses from emissions-producing energy sources’. On the other hand, they define a zero emissions building as one that achieves a ‘100% reduction in base building emissions, and does not product or release any CO2 or other greenhouse gases to the atmosphere as a direct or indirect result of the consumption and utilisation of energy’.

So, which wins? Uralla, the classic Australian country town, or Byron Bay, NSW’s laidback, surf central? From an environmental point of view, both options are extremely positive. The result of either approach would be a leap forward in Australia’s environmental development. As more towns sign up to such initiatives, so does the strength of our national efforts against climate change.

NSW has a plan in action to become carbon neutral by 2020, and the State government’s support for the Uralla project is evidence of their continuing efforts. They are providing $105,000 through the Office of Environment and Heritage for a business plan for the Uralla ZNET plan. Byron Bay’s mayor also expressed full confidence that their communal zero emissions plan, put together by the not-for-profit research organisation Beyond Zero Emissions, could easily get state or federal funding where needed.

Beyond Zero Emission’s research plan describes a blueprint on how to take Australia into ‘negative emissions’ capability. Their research has demonstrated that every building in Australia can actually be retrofitted to become zero emissions. Byron’s plan is to implement this blueprint, which would involve a total community upheaval. They will be boosting renewable energy uptake, retrofitting existing buildings, creating new public transport options and electric vehicle opportunities, changing land use practices and improving the management of waste and water.

In summary, there is only a sliver of difference in the expenditure variances between ‘zero net energy’ and ‘zero emissions’. While we’ve happily satisfied our curiosity, we all agree that in the battle against climate change, any effort is a good one – and both the Uralla and Byron projects will be an immense contribution to Australia’s environmental future.

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