Calif. enacts toughest building standards in nation

Source: Debra Kahn, E&E News reporter • Posted: Friday, May 11, 2018

California officials adopted building efficiency standards yesterday that will steer builders toward installing solar panels on all new homes.

The California Energy Commission’s standards cover all building projects, from home remodels to retail and office buildings. New homes would have to include enough solar panels to offset their electricity use or else compensate by using extra-efficient materials.

The standards, which will take effect in January 2020, fall short of the state’s goal, set in 2008, to achieve “zero net energy” for new and remodeled homes by 2020, with commercial buildings to follow by 2030. Regulators had trouble offsetting the use of natural gas for heating and cooking.

Instead, regulators have come up with a metric called “energy design rating” that scores buildings cumulatively against a benchmark rating. A building that forgoes solar, for example, can make up the difference by exceeding efficiency standards for lighting, appliances, insulation, heating or cooling. While homes will be more expensive up front, the rules are expected to save $1.7 billion in energy costs over the next 30 years and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 1.4 million metric tons.

As in previous versions, the standards vary according to geographic regions. The state is divided into 16 climate zones that have different preferred shades of window glazing, for example, depending on their sun exposure. The rules also put a varying value on electricity use depending on the time of day and season, known as “time-dependent valuation,” that makes calculating zero net energy even more complicated (Climatewire, Jan. 22).

In recent months, regulators tweaked the standards to encourage the use of electric, rather than gas-fired, water heaters by assigning different baselines for gas and electric heaters. That heartened environmental groups that are pushing the state to decrease reliance on natural gas.

“The key part of this development is it levels the playing field between gas and electric for new construction,” said Rachel Golden, a senior campaign representative with the Sierra Club.

Utilities and solar companies lined up at yesterday’s hearing to praise the standards. Building industry advocates were also largely on board, including the California Building Industry Association, the state’s main trade group. “Adoption of these standards represents a quantum leap,” said Bob Raymer, CBIA’s technical director. “You can bet every one of the other 49 states will be watching to see what happens.”

Manufacturers of heaters, air conditioners and refrigerators said they opposed the rules for requiring high-efficiency air filters to compensate for particulate air pollution from passing vehicles. “We’re asking you to delay adoption of this,” said Tom Sheehy, a lobbyist for the Air Conditioning, Heating & Refrigeration Institute.

Voluntary, extra-green standards known as CALGreen are due to come before the CEC later this year. The state will also soon begin work on its next batch of building standards, to take effect in 2022. They will focus on large multifamily homes and commercial buildings.