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Sacramento Has the Most Net Zero Buildings of Any City in America

California has more than half of the net zero buildings in the U.S., according to a new survey from the Net-Zero Energy Coalition. The survey is the first effort to catalog all of the zero energy buildings in North America.

California announced last year that it wants a self-sustaining market for all new homes to be net zero by 2020. The state has been chipping away at market barriers for zero energy buildings for nearly a decade.

Zero-net-energy buildings produce as much energy as they consume, usually through a mix of high efficiency and clean onsite generation. The definition requires that a home create as much energy as it uses over the course of an entire year, rather than on a real-time basis.

Across the U.S., there are nearly 6,800 net zero housing units (including apartments and single-family homes) across 3,339 buildings. The coalition defines zero energy buildings as those that produce as much renewable energy as they consume, or could do so with slight modifications.

Graph: Top zero energy building states, Net-Zero Energy Coalition

Davis, Calif. is second to Sacramento, which leads with more than 925 zero energy housing units with 800 more planned. Davis has just less than 900 zero energy homes . California has long been on the forefront of energy efficiency standards and much of the state has a relatively mild climate, making it a natural leader for the next step, to make new buildings energy neutral. Massachusetts has also invested in zero energy building feasibility studies.

The absolute figures are small overall; the total number of net zero housing units is equal to about 1 percent of 2014 housing starts. Another issue is that most of the net zero buildings are new construction, yet at least half of the buildings that will be in use in 2050 have already been built. New legislation regarding zero energy buildings will also have to come with more stringent rules for existing building stock, as California has done with its proposal to double energy efficiency in existing buildings.

Despite the challenges, Supporters of zero energy buildings see momentum building.  

“The numbers show major movement toward zero beyond current expectations, which should enable the market to see the feasibility of zero energy residential buildings from a financial, technical and market perspective,” Shilpa Sankaran, Net-Zero Energy Coalition’s executive director, said in a statement. The coalition expects net zero buildings to grow six-fold by 2017.

Most of the net zero buildings are homes, and the majority of those are defined as “zero energy ready.” Renewables are not necessarily supplying nearly all of the annual energy demand, but they could, the survey finds. In California, for instance, the state’s action plan calls for homes to be zero energy ready, rather than actually being energy-neutral.

Although there are efforts across the U.S. to grow this sector, it will likely be California’s work that will push it into the mainstream. The state is pulling together stakeholders from across the building spectrum, to work on issues such as reducing a home’s plug load, correctly valuing a zero energy home and identifying what the value of such homes may be to a utility.

In the next phase of research, the Net-Zero Energy Coalition will be conducting detailed case studies for a public online database to develop best practices in the burgeoning industry.

Katherine Tweed's picture
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Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jan 14, 2016

Katherine, do you have any evidence to show one building in California – anywhere – uses less energy than it generates from the sun? I didn’t think so, and there’s a reason for that: “zero net energy” is hype to promote natural gas, and California’s “Zero Net Energy Action Plan” was launched by California’s pro-gas CPUC. From 2010:

California Launches Zero Net Energy Action Plan

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) joined California business leaders to launch an action plan designed to help commercial building owners take advantage of the latest technologies and financial incentives to reduce energy use to `net-zero.’

Guess who appointed the Net Zero Energy Coalition’s Interim Director to her position?

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) appointed Shilpa to the Zero Net Energy Action Plan Champions initiative…

Can the CPUC really be “pro-gas”? After associations between the Commission and the natural gas industry were brought to light, CPUC scrubbed any reference to the ZNE Action Plan from their website:

but their decision to allow natural gas-powered fuel cells qualify as “low emission” prompted an angry letter from the California legislature. An excerpt (reported by your partner, Eric Wesoff):

  • “We are deeply disappointed with your proposed decision, which meets neither the letter nor the spirit of the statute.”
  • “The decision requires a paltry 5 percent reduction in GHG [greenhouse gases] compared to the existing standard, which is outdated and ineffective. In fact, the decision appears to be skewed to maintain eligibility for existing technologies operating on 100 percent conventional natural gas.”
  • “If your decision is adopted, SGIP will continue the increasingly absurd practice of subsidizing natural gas consumption, supporting existing technologies that have already taken hundreds of millions of dollars from SGIP…without producing substantial efficiency improvements, cost reductions, or general benefits for taxpayers, squandering the $415 million ratepayer investment authorized by SB 861 and undermining our collective efforts to clean the grid and transition away from fossil fuels.

Please stop carrying water for the fossil fuel industry in California. Thank you.

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