New Projects Help California Reach Zero Net Energy Goals

The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory launched two projects aimed at helping all new residential buildings in California to be zero net energy by 2020.

The Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory has launched two projects to help California reach its goal for all new residential buildings to be zero net energy (ZNE) by 2020. These projects have received $2 million in funding from the California Energy Commission, according to a news release by Berkeley Lab.

One of these projects will offer cost and performance modeling of ZNE homes and identify barriers. The goal of ZNE buildings is to only consume as much energy as they produce, and this is achieved by both reducing energy demand and on-site energy generation, often through the use of solar panels.

By doubling the rate of energy savings through building efficiency projects, the total amount of building energy use could be lower in 2030 than in 2014, despite population and economic growth. If this were achieved, there would be a 17 percent reduction in energy usage compared to projected 2030 levels. Although California currently only has a few hundred ZNE homes, the number of new housing starts is about 100,000 a year.

Researchers will analyze cost-effectiveness by comparing different approaches to lowering energy usage in homes, such as all-electric homes versus homes that heat with gas. In addition, they’ll assess the cost implications of entire neighborhoods and communities that have no natural gas infrastructure and will look at the possibility of implementing off-site renewable energy generation.

The second project will work to maintain acceptable indoor air quality in ZNE homes that use natural gas. Because California will continue to produce gas appliances, ventilation will become more important as homes become more energy efficient. The project will seek to provide ventilation that ensures quality air in these airtight homes.

Pollutants in kitchens come both from cooking food and burners themselves, particularly gas burners. In the past, hazardous levels of pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter have been found in homes. Range hoods aim to address these pollutants, and the state currently has a minimum airflow requirement for range hoods. (In photo above, Brett Singer, left, helps lead Berkeley Lab’s research on range hoods and indoor air quality).

Now, the lab will examine whether California’s building code needs to be adjusted for health and energy savings.

According to Brett Singer, one of the researchers on the second project, the projects are expected to go on for about 2  to 2.5 years. However, certain results may be available as early as 6 months from now.

Erin Schroeder is a freelance writer and editor based in St. Charles, Mo.

Photo credit: Berkeley Lab