CA Buildings Going For Zero Net Energy

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) and representatives from the commercial building, clean energy, finance, technology, and architecture sectors and various state agencies announced on September 1, 2010 the release of the state’s Zero Net Energy (ZNE) Action Plan for Buildings. The plan provides a roadmap to transform the state’s five billion square feet of commercial property space from the biggest energy consumers in the state to “net zero” energy users, through greater energy efficiency and on-site clean energy generation by 2030.

“Zero net energy isn’t just a big, bold goal, it’s a reality today,” said CPUC Commissioner Dian M. Grueneich. “By tapping into the innovation and entrepreneurial spirit that made California the largest builder of zero net energy structures in the nation, this action plan will succeed.”

ZNE buildings have net energy consumption of zero over a typical year. ZNE buildings are constructed to the highest level of energy efficiency possible, and the rest of the building’s energy demand is met by on-site renewable energy sources such as solar panels. To date, California has more ZNE buildings than any other state in the U.S.

“The vision for zero net energy buildings is not just for communities of tomorrow, but is an attainable, scalable solution possible today,” said Shilpa Sankaran, co-founder or ZETA Zero Energy Communities. “California has a thriving ZNE building industry that is creating entire neighborhoods, schools, offices and other buildings and communities that are cleaner, healthier, more comfortable and affordable places to live and work. The more progress we make toward ZNE buildings and transform the market, the more Californians will have the opportunity to live and work in these superior structures.”

California’s commercial property space consumes 38% of the state’s total power supply, making this sector the biggest energy users in the state. But buildings could be constructed to use 43% less energy through currently available energy saving building design, practices, and technologies, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

“Energy is one of the largest expenses of building ownership today, but it is the one expense that owners have the most control over,” said Martha Brook, senior mechanical engineer in the High Performance Buildings and Standards Development Office of the California Energy Commission. “The more building owners can do to reduce energy use, manage costs and move toward zero net energy, the better they will be able to stay competitive and profitable now and into the future. With this plan, the state is poised to help owners down this path toward zero net energy use and greater prosperity.”

The ZNE Action Plan for Buildings outlines strategies for both new construction and existing buildings.

New Construction

  • Establish a long-term progressive path of higher minimum codes & standards for all new buildings by 2030.
  • Expand Titles 20 and 24 to address all significant energy end uses.
  • Establish a “Path to Zero” campaign to create demand for high-efficiency buildings.
  • Develop innovative financial tools for ZNE and ultra-low energy new buildings.
  • Create additional investment incentives and leverage other funding.
  • Develop a multi-pronged approach to advance the practice of integrated design.

Existing Buildings

  • Lead by example: State/local governments and major corporations commit to achieve energy efficiency targets.
  • Lower the threshold for applying codes to existing buildings.
  • Ensure compliance with minimum Title 24 codes and standards for building renovations and expansion.
  • Establish mandatory energy and carbon labeling and benchmarks.
  • Develop tools and strategies to use information and behavioral strategies, commissioning, and training to reduce energy consumption in commercial buildings.
  • Develop effective financial tools for energy efficient improvements to existing buildings.
  • Develop business models and supplier infrastructure to deliver integrated and comprehensive “one-stop” energy management solutions.
  • Improve utilization of plug load technologies within the commercial sector.

To read further on these strategies, visit the CPUC Website to download the plan. (Scroll down and click on “Zero Net Energy Action Plan”.)