Regulators Want All New CA Homes To Use ‘Zero Net Energy’

Solar panelsPlacing a big bet on solar power and new regulations, state officials have rolled out ambitious new requirements aimed at slashing energy use in newly-constructed homes.

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“Buildings built in California starting in 2016 will have to comply with the nation’s toughest energy conservation standards,” the Central Valley Business Times reported. “The California Energy Commission has unanimously approved building energy efficiency standards that it says will reduce energy costs, save consumers money, and increase comfort in new and upgraded homes and other buildings.”

In single-family homes, that would amount to a drop in energy use by almost a third, relative to 2013 standards, the CVBT noted.

Cost and consequences

The New Residential Zero Net Energy Action Plan, as it has been dubbed, aimed “to establish a robust and self-sustaining market so that all new homes are zero net energy (ZNE) beginning in 2020.” Critics have reiterated longstanding objections to a statewide push of this kind, especially around the prospect of rising energy costs.

“The most complex issue will be valuing the homes, which will cost more upfront,” according to Greentech Media. “Currently, the CPUC is quoting an extra $2 to $8 per square foot after incentives. There will likely need to be incentives or creative utility billing, especially if the homes are providing demand-side services as the CPUC envisions. The CPUC says that the utilities are on board and will have to evaluate locational benefits of having net-zero homes on the system.”

As Greentech Media noted, planners have built in some would-be loopholes designed to make progress on ZNE without imposing the new standards too quickly: “Homes can be ZNE-ready, rather than actually being energy-neutral. That could mean they are solar-ready, for instance, but perhaps don’t have solar panels already installed.”

But even supporters of the plan have cautioned that executing on its goals may be a daunting challenge. At the Huffington Post, one analyst noted, “as California’s clean power goals rise, new capacity could begin to slow.”

“Some planned large projects are now on hold due to financial problems. Others face environmental challenges, such as threats to bird flyways and desert habitats. Large-scale solar plants, particularly those using solar thermal technology, are losing appeal to investors as photovoltaic panel prices plunge. And utilities, having largely reached their current renewable procurement targets, have few new projects in the pipeline. What’s more, the federal solar investment tax credit program for new utility projects drops from 30 percent to 10 percent after 2016, and ends completely for individuals.”

Unifying the grid

Nevertheless, optimism among policymakers and activists has remained high — largely because of the role of technological innovation centered in California. Apple and Google have embarked on so-called “grid-scale” renewable energy projects, while Tesla has pushed into the home energy storage business.

But some experts have implied that the problem of rising energy costs could best be addressed by linking up the net-zero energy industry with the zero-emission automobile industry. “A recent California study estimated that utility companies could earn $2.26 to $8.11 billion in net revenues from large-scale commercialization of EVs,” as reported in Fortune. “This is sufficient to allow utilities to invest both in installing charging infrastructure and return some of the revenues to their customers in the form of lower rates.”

By supplying ubiquitous EV charging stations, observers surmised, utilities could eventually recoup electrical power from cars embedded into the same flexible grid as homes. “The value of having a flexible load on the grid will grow even further with higher amounts of wind and solar,” Fortune continued. “Electric vehicles can be programmed to charge during peak solar or wind generation periods, preventing this valuable electricity from being wasted. In the future, electric vehicles could increase their value by putting electricity back into the grid as well[.]”

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  1. Vic Haven says

    Why is it that when people have solar panels installed, PG&E gets away with refusing to install the inverter that is required to make this solar thing work!!!

    • This smart-inverter you are talking about ended up costing German taxpayers millions to straighten out. WEIL letter August, 7 2013. The smart-inverter is a must on roof-top and Utility-Scale solar PV to stop the strain no the Utility companies!!

  2. I look forward to a future where a William Henry Dana will remark about the thin columns of smoke drifting upward from the plain between the coastal hills and San Pedro Bay.

  3. David Peters says

    This all assumes that buyers of new homes will live their lives according to the amount of sunlight available. Not bloody likely.
    Has anybody asked the utilities about this? They will bear the cost of a distribution network that won’t be distributing anything?
    What about the issue of storage for dark hours? Will there be an alternative to Tesla batteries?
    A good idea, but note the subsidies needed to make it less unacceptable. If it were feasible, it would be on the market now.

  4. This will make all new homes so expensive that the price of mine will go way up when I sell it so I’m all for it. Drive the price of new homes out of affordability. I’ll sell you mine for 100,000+, more than I paid for it any time. California politicians are so incredibly corrupt and you can make money off of them if you are smart.

  5. Once again “scamming” is running amok! EPA needs a rude awakening after years of getting away with their tyrannical pseudo government. It does not matter how much you place into conserving energy, they will sky rocket the prices continually. Its all about the money and power. Californians need to circle the wagons.

  6. These people in the California legislature don’t know a damned thing about physics or engineering but they are voting to change peoples lives!

  7. How ignorant of the Jerry Brown legislatures. The sun goes down everyday and when its dark, stormy or cloudy solar doesn’t work. Back up system are very expensive to hook into, operate and maintain when this ramping up and down happens to compensate for solars failure to produce. More ramping more O&M. Who pays for the extra O&M on the back-up systems. Guess what,your bill is going up-up-up and up. The best ting to do is “TRASH” solar for a better more reliable, efficient renewable energy source. and NOT WIND!!! Bunch of brain-less idiot environ”MENTAL” ist running California. Can anyone tell me just one environ”MENTAL” program or agenda that has worked beginning with Rachel Carson’s boondoggle, “Silent Spring” that has killed thousands perhaps millions by using untrue and false data in her book. Environ”MENTAL” murders!!! One environ”MENTAL” program after another keeps failing and we still give in to these ignorant idiot knuckleheads to pacify their crying!! ~~~WA!WA~WA~WA~~~When is it going to stop???

    • Irv, you are 101% correct. I’ve got a 3.5Kwh system, installed it 10 years ago when I built the house. Yep it has an inverter. My NET cost was $23K, the rest of the taxpayers covered the balance of about $12k. Today it’s producing AT PEAK 2.4Kwh. These were top of the line cells not the Chinese junk you find today. Oh BTW good luck trying to find someone to come repair a system.

      PG&E asked for a rate increase because DEMAND is down. They still have to provide lines for backup and the rest of the infrastructure. I say go with nice GREEN Nukes and call it a day.

      If people want to see the issues with too much intermittent solar just look at the issues that Honolulu is having.

      Why are ⅓ of the wind mills on Altamont pass DEAD, what a lovely testament to Green Energy. Build them take the money and run.

      EnviroLoons or Enviro”mental’ is exactly right, enough is enough, save the birds.

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