The California Energy Commission unanimously approved a hard fought, cutting edge building energy efficiency code update Aug. 11, a key part being incentives for efficient electric water and space heat pumps in all new residential buildings and some nonresidential ones. The largest share of building energy is from heating systems, with gas-fired systems producing most of the carbon emissions.
Lead Commissioner Andrew McAllister said the 2022 code will “juice the market for heat pumps” given California’s massive market. “It is not a pick your fuels building code.”
Others agreed the update is decisive.
The code, known as the 2022 Title 24 standard, “sets the model for the international community,” Pierre Delforge, NRDC senior scientist, said. “It is the right thing to do for the climate, and health, safety, and pocketbooks of Californians.” He stressed the importance of the update given that every year 100,000 new houses and more than 100 million square feet of non-residential offices, retail, and other non-residential buildings are built in the state.
Solar power paired with storage systems will be mandatory in certain structures, including high-rise apartments and retail spaces. The code requires that new homes and low-rise apartments and condos be prewired, including with 240 volt outlets and electric panel upgrades, to enable future conversion from gas appliances to electric and to allow electric vehicle charging and energy storage.
“It is the strongest state decarbonization code in the nation,” Panama Bartholomy, Building Decarbonization Coalition executive director, said at the CEC’s Wednesday meeting.
The update was embraced by many others as well, several of whom urged the Commission to adopt a full all-electric construction mandate in the 2025 code. Many speakers cited the climate crisis highlighted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Aug. 9 and the urgent need to slash climate pollution.
“The right place.”
Commissioner Chair David Hochschild said the agency has been repeatedly attacked for its efforts to cut natural gas use in the months leading up to this vote. It was sued by Southern California Gas Co. The new “bold code landed us just in the right place,” he said.
Southern California Edison, an all-electric investor-owned utility, the Sacramento Municipal Utility District and Pacific Gas & Electric backed the update.
In a statement after the vote, PG&E Spokesperson Lynsey Paulo said the company supports the CEC’s “efforts to advance efficient, all-electric new construction when it is feasible and cost-effective.”
The CEC estimated the energy code will provide $1.5 billion in consumer benefits and reduce 10 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, which is on par with taking nearly 2.2 million cars off the road for a year.
McAllister called the savings estimate a “vast underestimate” of how much the new code will improve the lives of Californians, including by reducing utility bills.
Buildings in the state produce one fourth of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions.
The 2022 standard also includes subsidies for electric heat pump hot water heaters in new buildings in eastern San Diego and parts of Riverside County, which had not been part of the earlier draft. Decarbonization advocates pushed hard to require heat pump water heaters in this area because they use far more energy than space heating in this mild climate. In addition, it is also where most of the new homes in the state are being built.
Renewable powered heat pumps slash carbon emissions
Efficient heat pumps will avoid at least 75% of the greenhouse gas emissions emitted from the most efficient gas furnace, Delforge said in an Aug. 11 blog. The new incentives for heat pump water or space heating apply to all single family homes and apartments, and to some non-residential buildings. “More work is needed to expand those requirements to other types of heating systems used in larger non-residential buildings,” Delforge added.
According to McAllister, the increased electrification under the new code will not raise summer energy demand because of the efficiencies in the technology and new behind-the-meter solar and storage requirements for tall apartments and condos, as well as offices, retail spaces, schools, and public auditoriums. The solar-storage projects allow them to provide onsite power as needed, reducing demand on the grid.
The new solar mandate expands the CEC’s 2019 requirement that nearly all new homes and small apartments include rooftop solar. Both it and the new code allow exemptions when solar is not possible or cost effective.
Hochschild said the new requirement will lead to 400 MW of new battery projects and 280 MW of additional solar every year.
The new code, to go into effect Jan. 1, 2023, also strengthens ventilation standards to reduce indoor air pollution from gas appliances to protect public health, particularly in overburdened communities.
The code is not a hard and fast mandate but give builders flexibility in how they meet a new low-carbon performance standard, McAllister stressed.
The code also seeks to advance building interaction with the grid. For example, major appliances will eventually be able to receive signals from the grid so that they do not draw power at the wrong times.
The standard also imposes limits on the power-hungry commercial cannabis industry.
SoCalGas suit is pending
Meanwhile, the lawsuit brought by SoCalGas in late July 2020 against the CEC continues to be litigated. The gas utility is challenging the Commission’s 2019 Integrated Energy Policy Report and AB 1257 Natural Gas Act Report on grounds they are “anti-natural gas policy,”
On Feb. 26, 2021, the CEC sought to dismiss the case. On July 26, SoCalGas opposed the move. The CEC is scheduled to file a reply on Aug. 30, 2021, with a court hearing set for Sept. 3, 2021, according to CEC Spokesperson Sandy Louey.