• What it means for North Bay projects that California is eyeing higher-efficiency building standards

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    September 08, 2021
    September 7, 2021

    Following up on California Building Code updates that required photovoltaic systems be installed on new single-family homes as of last year, the California Energy Commission recently approved recommended updates such as solar installations on commerical buildings and standards to promote electric cars at home, all to meet goals to cut emissions.

    Proposed updates to the state’s forthcoming 2022 Energy Code include requirements for solar panels with large batteries to be installed on new commercial and high-rise apartment buildings. The code also includes optional specifications and mandates that would allow homes to go all electric.

    Home builders would have to install 240-volt outlets to accommodate electric-vehicle chargers, large batteries that can power the house’s needs and higher-volume fans to vent out emissions from natural-gas appliances.

    The code language the energy commission approved also recommends that home air-conditioners, furnaces, water heaters and stoves be outfitted with all-electric equivalents, especially electric heat pumps for warming and cooling the air.

    That Energy Code update is set to be considered by the California Building Standards Commission in December. If approved, the new standards would go into effect at the beginning of 2023.

    Roger Nelson, president of Petaluma-based commercial and multifamily project general contractor Midstate Construction, said these changes are needed but will push home prices up.

    “We are presently confronted with both a climate crisis and a housing crisis,” he told the Business Journal. “While weaning our society from fossil fuels is a necessity, the impact of Title 24 and the proposed solar and battery back-up creates an affordability gap. New residential construction is already out of reach of many income levels. The gap cannot be covered by the marketplace and should be addressed as a federal infrastructure focus.”

    These new Energy Code rules are part of California's goal to reach “carbon neutrality” — a balance of greenhouse gas emissions and removal — by 2045. But environmental groups such as Santa Rosa-based The Climate Center think that pace isn’t quick enough, pointing to reports such as one released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change late last month that point to an alarming acceleration of climate change.

    The group’s Climate-Safe California campaign wants California to move up that goal to 2030, when the state plans to hit its target of a 40% reduction below 1990 levels.

    But some North Bay solar and electrical contractors are skeptical.

    “The amount of power (that solar) units would take in in a commercial application will be next to impossible to offset with the typical roof space in commercial buildings, particularly office buildings,” said Ben Goldberg, vice president of sales at Simply Solar in Petaluma. “I don't think it is feasible.”

    The proposed requirement to prep new homes for electric-car charging would have to change the way utilities are brought to the house, something that owners of existing homes have realized, Goldberg said. It had been standard practice to have electrical panels and gas meters in close proximity, but the added power demands of chargers and large electric appliances are causing those to have to have further separation for fire safety.

    Electric stand-alone air-source heat pump water heaters work like a refrigerator or air-conditioner in reverse. They pull heat from the surrounding air and dump it — at a higher temperature — into the tank to heat water, and depending on configuration can channel cooler air back into the living space. These two to three times more energy efficient than conventional electric water heaters, according to the Department of Energy.

    But when considering just the additional electrical load for a house with all-electric appliances and a car charger, this can pose a challenge to solar and battery systems, Goldberg said.

    “We can install solar with battery storage to greatly reduce peak loads, but air-conditioning or heat pumps are less than desirable use of the limited energy storage of home batteries,” Goldberg said.

    Petaluma-based Ygrene Energy Fund sets up and runs local government programs across the country that allow homeowners and commercial property owners to access money for solar, water-conservation and energy-efficiency upgrades, paying it back via property-tax payments. Such programs are called property assessed clean energy funding, or PACE.
    The commercial form of that funding is called C-PACE. Ygrene has seen a significant increase in demand for funding for combination solar-and-battery projects, according to the company.

    “Most of these projects are for industrial properties, and these buildings are typically owner occupied and have significant energy loads, where the economics of solar and energy storage make sense,” Ygrene said in a statement. “Office buildings also are poised to go solar, since leases oftentimes are structured so that the property owner pays the electric bill.”

    Ygrene said it offers to defer payments past the placed-in-service date, which allows the property owner to accrue energy savings before the first C-PACE financing payment is due. The company also allows property owners to make a partial prepayment without penalty.

    Jeff Quackenbush covers wine, construction and real estate. Before the Business Journal, he wrote for Bay City News Service in San Francisco. He has a degree from Walla Walla University. Reach him at jquackenbush@busjrnl.com or 707-521-4256.

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