Helping California Make Zero Net Energy Buildings a Reality

SCE is working to determine the impact these energy-saving homes have on its electrical distribution grid.

Dahlia loves her Zero Net Energy single-family home in Ontario, California, a building where the annual energy consumption is no greater than its annual renewable energy generation.

“All my friends want one now because I’ve been so happy,” said Dahlia, who asked that only her first name be used. “I tell them you can have one too, in 2020.”

California’s elected officials and energy regulators — along with home builders, appliance makers and clean energy advocates — are hoping there are millions more homebuyers like Dahlia.

That’s because the state, as part of its drive to fight climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, is aiming for all new residential construction to achieve Zero Net Energy performance levels by 2020. By 2030, the goal is for all new commercial buildings, and 50 percent of existing commercial floor space, to meet Zero Net Energy performance levels.

With the state promoting mass adoption of Zero Net Energy buildings, Southern California Edison is helping California move closer to achieving its ambitious goals and timelines.

“Although technology will be key to achieving Zero Net Energy, solutions have to be seamless to our customer,” said Edwin Hornquist, SCE Emerging Technologies program manager, whose program funds many of these demonstrations. “Accelerating these Zero Net Energy practices in the real world requires the leadership of key industry partners that put these solutions into practice as demonstrated with these projects.”

C.R. Herro, vice president of Environmental Affairs for one of the nation’s largest home builders, recently visited the site where California’s first Zero Net Energy residential community — 20 homes in total — will be built by year-end.

“Six years ago, when we started (this project), we were told it wasn’t achievable,” Herro said. “Wasn’t financially achievable, wasn’t technically achievable. Today, you can buy 20 of these homes.”

The community, called Sierra Crest and located in Fontana, is the product of a partnership between the Electric Power Research Institute, the California Public Utilities Commission, the California Energy Commission, SCE and a number of private companies.

SCE is evaluating the impacts of introducing a Zero Net Energy community of homes onto the electric distribution grid. The utility is also providing technical, engineering and planning support to ensure all the renewable energy and energy-efficiency components are working to deliver Zero Net Energy-level performance.

Some of the features in Zero Net Energy homes include: high-efficiency solar panels, heat pumps for space heating and cooling, spray foam insulation, highly insulated windows, LED lighting and smart appliances.

“This is the starting point for the grid of the future,” said Ram Narayanamurthy, Electric Power Research Institute project manager. “Edison has been our partner from the get-go. This would have been impossible without the support of Edison.”

Dahlia’s home is the product of a partnership between SCE and one of the nation’s largest homebuilders. Bought in 2013, the two-story, 2,200-plus-square-foot dwelling was designed and built as a showcase home.

One of SCE’s goals was to assess energy-efficient technologies in a whole-building approach. Another goal was to demonstrate to the homeowner how reducing energy costs can offset the costs of the various Zero Net Energy components.

“My solar panels are generating slightly more than I use in gas and electricity combined,” said Dahlia. “I love it.”

SCE is currently working on multiple Zero Net Energy projects, including a pilot to determine whether Zero Net Energy retrofits of K-12 schools and community colleges are feasible across California. The utility is also working on a Zero Net Energy retrofit of low-income, multi-family housing in Lancaster.

“These projects will help shed light on the benefits of Zero Net Energy solutions,” said Thomas Walker, SCE director of New Program Development and Launch. “It is an important part of our efforts in ensuring a clean energy future for our customers.”