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The Center features many energy-saving features such a passive solar sun room on the south side (photos by Ken West)

Maharishi International University’s Schwartz-Guich Sustainable Living Center has caught the attention of Getting to Net Zero, an organization that keeps track of ultra-efficient buildings and their energy usage.

According to their calculations, the Sustainable Living Center’s net Energy Use Intensity (EUI) was -0.5 in 2015, indicating that the building produced 5 percent more energy than it used.

Getting to Net Zero said that the Center is among the highest-performing buildings they had encountered, especially given Iowa’s harsh climate.

Net zero energy is a sought-after goal for many buildings in the world that rely on exceptional energy conservation and on-site renewable generation to meet all of their heating, cooling, and electricity needs.

2015 was the only year consistent data tracking was available at the Sustainable Living Center but, according to estimates, the building was even more efficient in previous years, producing as much as 30 percent more energy than it used.


The hot water heating system uses solar and geothermal heat to keep the building warm

“There are very few buildings in the world that can say they are net zero, and most of those are in climates that are far less demanding than ours,” said Professor David Fisher, “That’s what makes the building so remarkable energy-wise.”


The building’s electricity comes from two sources: solar photovoltaic panels and a wind turbine. The heating is provided by solar hot water heaters. The heating and cooling are also supplemented by geothermal tubing.

The building is currently grid-tied, feeding the excess capacity back to the MIU electrical grid and drawing from it in times of insufficient production. The overall energy consumption of the building, however, is negative.

“It is a living and growing demonstration building,” said Dr. Fisher, “I believe we could do even better.”

Ideal Energy, the local alumni-owned company that installed the photovoltaic solar panels, is currently researching the feasibility of a battery-supported, off-the-grid system.