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Renewable Energy and California’s Building Energy Efficiency Standards

Gina Rodda, Principal/Owner
Gina Rodda, Principal/Owner

Renewable energy has always been a point of discussion with you, our clients. Many of you have told us that renewable energy should always be allowed as part of the efforts to be “greener” or “zero net energy” when complying with Title 24, but I have to tell you, I love that it is not.

Our energy code, mandated by the Warren Alquist Act (1974), requires that the Building Energy Efficiency Standards (Title 24, Part 6) be updated every 3 years to enable the “reduction of wasteful, uneconomic, inefficient, or unnecessary consumption of energy” through building efficiency (what is built into the home to reduce energy use), not energy generation (renewables), and the energy code is enforced by building departments through the permit process. Based on that original mandate, the Energy Standards can only include measures that are found to be cost effective, meaning that they can pay for themselves, by the energy saved, over the lifetime of each required, higher-efficiency, building feature.

More recently, there have been additional policy requirements developed and implemented via Zero Net Energy Goals, CARB Climate Change Scoping Plan and California’s Long Term Energy Efficiency Strategic Plan. That is a lot of legislation moving the Energy Commission to make aggressive changes to the energy code, while always keeping it cost effective. This has driven our building practices to evolve quickly, and with some discomfort.

The energy code for new construction for homes has reached the state timeline for Zero Net Energy (ZNE) by 2020, but there have been some changes in the roadway getting there. ZNE is generally defined as using no more energy than can be produced onsite through renewable energy sources, and the original plan was to achieve true ZNE using solar electricity from photovoltaics (PV). However, cost effectiveness has to be maintained, and studies show that right now PV cannot pay for itself over its lifetime for all areas in California, or for all building types (mixed fuel and/or all electric), so the goal had to be changed. New homes under the 2019 code are not Zero Net Energy, but as close as was possible with the cost-effectiveness factors in play. Only after maximizing the inherent building efficiency that is an integral part of the home design and construction, can a PV, and potentially a battery, system be considered as an additional feature to the home’s energy portfolio.
Later in this newsletter, Rosemary will get into the specifics of how renewables in the 2019 Energy Standards will change from our current 2016 Energy Standards; I will dive a little deeper on just nonresidential and multifamily buildings; and Michelle will concentrate on just single family homes. As always, we hope you come to us with any questions you have about YOUR projects, and we hope to see you at our client seminar on September 10th on how to prepare best for the 2019 Energy Standards.

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