The One and Only Electrification Lexicon

Language matters, particularly as its being written into policy, regulations, and goal setting. It’s apparent that we need a new, shared lexicon around what it means to design, construct and operate low-energy, low-carbon buildings and vehicles.

We pulled definitions from a variety of sources—several of which disagreed with each other. The Frontier Energy team is boldly going where no one has gone before to offer these definitions.

Ultimately eliminating CO2 from every building, vehicle, farm, and power plant. Natural CO2 from plants and animals doesn’t count. No change to the foam in your beer.

Carbon Neutral

It’s like eating salad for lunch to make up for taco Tuesday. Carbon neutral buildings use energy efficiency, clean energy, and off-sets or credits to make up for the carbon produced from construction through daily life of the residents.

Zero Carbon

No electron trading with the grid! A zero-carbon building produces all its renewable energy onsite.

Zero Net Carbon

Hey, buddy. Wanna buy some offshore wind? ZNC buildings buy renewable, carbon-free power from an off-site producer.


Repeat after me…I love induction cooktops; induction cooking is fun. Electrification means replacing cooking, water and space heating appliances that burn propane, heating oil, natural gas, and other fossil fuels with appliances that plug in.

Zero Emissions

It’s a car, it’s a truck, it’s a trendy coffee shop! Zero emissions is mostly used to describe vehicles that do not have tailpipe emissions—ZEVs.

Partial Zero Emissions

OMG, the car died! Nope, it’s using technology to shut off the engine at a stop light and earns the designation of P-ZEV.

Zero Energy

How you feel during the mid-afternoon break from panel sessions and all the coffee is gone. Zero energy, however, means a building that, on a source basis, annually produces more energy than it needs.

Zero Net Energy

Net Zero Energy or Zero Net Energy? It’s just semantics—tomayto or tomahto. Both refer to a grid-connected building that annually uses only as much energy as can be renewably produced onsite. The near-philosophical discussion is about what counts as “onsite.” PV across the street? A wind farm 20 miles away?

Grid Harmonization

Yes, it is a great name for a band, but it means using technology to shift electrons between the grid and a building, energy storage, or demand response device on a moment-by-moment basis.

A zero-energy building isn’t necessarily zero carbon and a zero-emission car is rarely zero carbon. Reaching the holy grail of triple-zero requires a lot of coordination, know-how, and innovation blended with the right amount of crazy ideas and stick-to-it-tiveness. Sound like you? It’s totally us.

Contact one of our power, building, or transportation specialists to learn more…or to debate the meanings in our lexicon!

Nancy Barba - Frontier Energy
Nancy Barba
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Chris Bradt
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Chris White - Frontier Energy
Chris White
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Ben White
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Jay Zarnikau
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Carina Paton - Frontier Energy
Carina Paton
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Richard Young
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