An article in the August 2010 issue of Environmental Building News questions why one might set a goal of a net-zero building. The article postulates that such thinking could contribute to sprawl, and that it is more useful to work toward net-zero energy neighborhoods. A larger, more community-based solution allows one to capture the benefit of scale when it comes to biomass, boilers, chillers, and other high-tech solutions.
When it comes to colleges and universities, they may already have some of the necessary infrastructure in place (centralized energy and good distribution, for example). Of course, for many institutions, this infrastructure may be aging and sub-standard, revealing some of the obstacles to a more neighborhood-scale approach to net-zero.