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University, National Grid and Lowell Partner in Contest

Homeowners Challenged to Achieve Zero Consumption

The “Getting to Zero Energy Challenge” team includes, from left, Paul Panish of Advanced Building Systems, Aaron Clausen and Sandy Swaile of Lowell’s Division of Planning and Development, Lowell Mayor Bud Caulfield, Prof. Sammy Shina and City Manager Bernie Lynch.

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With winter just around the corner, homeowners across New England are concerned about the cost of heating their homes this season. Despite the recent drop in the price of crude oil, in Massachusetts the cost of heating oil has increased by 19 percent, natural gas by 26 percent and electricity by 40 percent since 2005.

That is why National Grid and the City of Lowell, in partnership with UMass Lowell, Advanced Building Analysis and the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources, are sponsoring a competition called “Getting to Zero Energy Challenge” to help property owners in Lowell get their homes as close to zero-energy consumption as possible. Such dwellings could serve as models for energy efficiency, conservation and independence throughout the region.

“Zero net energy homes refer to eco-friendly residential buildings that use zero dollars in heating and cooling bills,” says Prof. Sammy Shina of the Mechanical Engineering Department, who attended the contest’s kickoff at Lowell City Hall in November.

“The challenge for contest participants is to come up with strategies that would make their existing homes, condos and buildings as close to zero-energy consumption as possible by using proper insulation and energy-efficient appliances as well as renewable energy sources such as solar and ground heat. The best proposals will each receive a $25,000 rebate from National Grid.”
Massachusetts Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Ian Bowles states in a press release that, “With buildings responsible for 40 percent of all U.S. energy use, two-thirds of all electricity consumption and half of all greenhouse gas emissions, moving toward zero net energy buildings has the potential to dramatically lower costs for residences and businesses, while spurring development of the clean energy sector and creating jobs.”

One prize will be awarded to homeowners or developers who currently or will house low- to medium-income residents under the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development classification. The other prize will be available for all homes, with no limit on income levels.

In preparation for the contest, Shina organized two training sessions for 11 Mechanical Engineering seniors on the basics of zero-energy homes. National Grid donated $10,000 for the training, which was conducted by the Building Science Corp., a leading zero-energy consulting firm in Westford. Eight of the seniors ߝ Ashton DePasquale, Mat Durette, Eric Favini, Roger Gyebi, Nic Anderson, Jonathan Hillman, Tim Matook and Aleczander Stith ߝ will serve as volunteers for the contest while the remaining three ߝ Henry Jamijian, Glenn Ratcliffe and Than Quang-Vinh ߝ will serve as alternates. 

Mechanical Engineering Prof. John Duffy, who coordinates the University’s solar engineering graduate program, will lead the students in two senior capstone teams to assist contest applicants in developing detailed design proposals for the final phase of the selection. The panel of judges will include representatives from National Grid, Lowell’s Division of Planning and Development, UMass Lowell, Advanced Building Analysis, the Green Building Commission and the Nexus Green Building Roundtable.

Those interested in participating should file a notice of intent by Jan. 1 and submit their final proposals by March 15. For more information, visit

ߝ Edwin_Aguirre