An Analysis of Net Zero Energy District Development at Windward Pointe

Client Organization: 
Pure Muskegon LLC
Project Location : 
Muskegon, MI
Summary of Project Idea: 

The goal of this project is to study how the Net Zero Energy District business model created by the Rocky Mountain Institute can be applied to the Windward Pointe development in Muskegon, MI. A Net Zero Energy District is defined as a community development that generates as much on-site energy as it uses, effectively creating a micro-grid. Windward Pointe is a 120 acre former industrial site on the shores of Muskegon Lake. The site location is highly desirable, boasting almost 1 mile of shoreline access and a 2 mile proximity to Lake Michigan. Preliminary development concepts for the site include a mix of housing, shopping, a resort, parkland, and a marina.

The overall project goal decomposes into the following four objectives. Each objective has its own list of specific activities that are considered reasonable for a 16-month project.

  1. Energy System & Site Design: Determine feasibility of combining on-site renewable energy generation, geothermal heating and cooling, and super-efficient buildings to achieve net zero energy use. Also incorporate green infrastructure concepts to concept layout.
    • On-site renewable energy system sizing
    • Geothermal system sizing
    • Building design and energy demand determination
    • District energy budget development
    • Green infrastructure design
  2. Business Model: Evaluate if the proposed energy system combined with strategic financing options and an integrated energy service provider (IESP) can increase ROI for developers and decrease tenant costs
    • Energy system cost evaluation
    • IESP and financing structure
    • Levelized monthly energy cost modeling
    • Long term ROI determination
  3. Regulatory Landscape: Assess if Michigan’s current energy regulations allow for the creation of an IESP and identify grants or subsidies for this type of sustainable development
    • Regulatory assessment
    • Utility interaction
    • Grant and subsidy research
  4. Consumer Behavior: Conduct a survey of the local community to determine opinions of sustainable development, amenity preferences, and willingness to pay for net zero energy implementation
    1. Survey development
    2. Results synthesis

 This project will have real-world implications at both regional and global scales. At the regional level, all project recommendations will have the opportunity to be implemented at Windward Pointe. Potential benefits include emission reductions, enhanced community resiliency, and lower energy costs. Increased visibility for Windward Pointe will also help attract developers and tenants to increase economic growth and establish the region as a leader in sustainability. At a more global level, the project will act as a case study for the implementation of the net zero energy district framework.  Establishing the feasibility for this approach will help promote an increase in large scale sustainable development in the future.

The project will require a truly integrative approach. Each team member will take ownership of an objective best suited to their skills to provide a clear distribution of responsibilities. The completion of each objective will then require the team members to work collaboratively since each objective is dependent on other objectives in some way. A mapping of the objective dependencies is shown below.




SNRE Program Areas: 
Environmental Policy and Planning
Behavior, Education, and Communication
Sustainable Systems
Landscape Architecture
Role for each program area: 

Environmental Policy & Planning: One Environmental Policy and Planning student is needed for the completion of Objective#3. The student will help the group work with the local government, understand the energy regulatory landscape, and identify beneficial grants or subsidies. Experience with energy regulation concepts and renewable energy incentives is preferred.

Behavior, Education and Communication: One Behavior, Education, and Communication student is needed for the completion of Objective #4. The student will help the group conduct a survey of the Muskegon community to understand their perceptions of sustainable development. Results of the survey will then help inform the design created as part of Objective #1. Experience with survey design is preferred.

Sustainable Systems: Two Sustainable Systems track students are needed for the completion of Objectives #1 and #2. One student will be responsible for developing the technical solution for the energy system. Experience with renewable energy technology and system sizing is preferred. The other student will conduct the financial modeling of the solution and determine cost feasibility. Experience with project finance is preferred.

Landscape Architecture: One Landscape Architecture student is needed for the completion of Objective #1. The student will help the group develop layouts and drawings of the proposed concept to understand the interaction between on-site renewable energy generation and the built environment, as well as other sustainable development and green infrastructure features. Experience with mocking up concepts for large-scale developments is preferred.

Professional Career Development Benefits: 

Students will gain in-depth knowledge of renewable energy systems, energy efficient buildings, and innovative district development business models. Additionally, students will have exposure to the Pure Muskegon investor group and researchers within the Buildings Practice at the Rocky Mountain Institute. There is also the potential for team recommendations to be implemented within the Windward Pointe development.

Funding Sources: 

SNRE internal funding will be requested to support the completion of the survey defined within Objective #4.

Identify expected products/deliverables: 

The following deliverables will be produced as part of this project. Recommendations contained within the deliverables will be considered for implementation within Windward Pointe.

  • Energy budget containing potential on-site energy generation and estimated demand
  • Site layout concept incorporating on-site generation with recommended parcel use
  • Financial model providing developer and tenant costs
  • Community survey result synthesis
Contact full name: 
Noah Feingold, Mike Porcelli
Job title: 
SNRE students
Ann Arbor
State or Country: 
Contact information: 
SNRE student
Master Students Involved in Project: 
  • Noah Feingold
  • Mike Porcelli
Project Status: 
In Progress