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California tightens building standards yet again

By Climate Guest Contributor  

"California tightens building standards yet again"

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California Title 24 Climate ZonesThe California Energy Commission (CEC) last week adopted stricter energy efficiency standards for new construction. Known as Title 24, California’s standards seek to reduce heating, cooling, and electricity bills for consumers. Title 24 dates from the 1970s, but has been updated continuously since. Concern about natural gas availability and price has been one spur driving the standards (natural gas is heavily used for both heating and electricity generation in California).

Here are a few examples of changes. Because the standards are complex, changes cannot be reduced to a single number. For example, Air Conditioning standards get changed with the size of the unit, and window U-factors (rate of heat loss) vary with climate zone.

  • Minimum Air Conditioner and Heat Pump efficiency increased (e.g. 10.3 EER to 11.2 EER for AC between 65,000 Btu/h and 135,000 Btu/h).
  • Window U-factors improved by 10% to 68% in some climate zones.
  • Roofing products are required to reflect a minimum amount of sunlight in certain climate zones. The CEC’s press release explained, ‘”Cool roofs” are highly reflective, insulated roofing materials that stay up to 40 degrees cooler than a normal roof under a hot summer sun. “Cool roof” standards are designed to reduce air conditioner demand, save money, and reduce the urban heat island effect. A “cool roof” can reduce a homeowner’s electricity consumption by as much as 20 percent.’

One item proposed item was later removed. The CEC had sought to require thermostats that “respond to price and emergency demand response signals” (i.e. grid overload could result in AC shutdown instead of blackouts.) This item was moved to a future proceeding.

According to the press release, the new standards targeted peak energy use, e.g. air conditioning load on hot days, and will cut California’s peak energy demand by 129 megawatts the first year the standards are in effect and increase cumulatively in subsequent years.

California’s utilities were in many cases proponents of specific improvements to efficiency (e.g. PG&E proposed window efficiency upgrades). In many states utilities would see their profit reduced by such efficiency improvements, but in California and other states, utility profits are “decoupled” from revenue, and it is often the case that efficiency is more profitable than generation.

– Earl Killian

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11 Responses to California tightens building standards yet again

  1. mauri pelto says:

    These are very practical steps. What can the EPA do to block these? President Reagan did not understand that electric utilities could make more by promoting less use of their product, than by trying to produce more product in the early 1980′s. Strange for free market thinking, but it has proven to be true and the utilites have pushed the line for sometime.

  2. John Mashey says:

    Mauri:
    Fortunately, this isn’t the EPA’s turf.

    How are the local PUC rules in new England? Do they do good job of incenting utilities for efficiency? If not, it’s probably one of the biggest wins there is. Our local NorCal utility is PG&E, and quick perusal of their webpages shows how they act, and they actually mean it – I’ve talked to several of their senior people, including their CEO, Peter Darbee, and articulate and impressive speaker.

  3. Mark Shapiro says:

    I certainly like decoupling utilities’ profits from revenue so that they can encourage efficiency, and I have read about it at RMI, but how is it implemented? How is (or was, in California’s case) utility law changed to encourage efficiency?

  4. Hal Levin says:

    California started on the conservation path after “exporting” its former governor (RR) to Washington where he and his allies did what they could to make sure the country didn’t follow the California lead. We still haven’t recovered, but California has managed to keep per capita electric consumption stable all these years anyway. It’s just that there are so many more of us now. Like Amory says, conservation is the low hanging fruit that is piling up and rotting around our ankles.

  5. Earl Killian says:

    Hal, strangely enough it was RR who signed the Warren-Alquist bill in California in response to the 1970s energy shocks. Actually I think the legislature passed the bill, RR vetoed it, then the crisis hit, and RR reversed himself and signed it.

    Art Rosenfeld’s biography (online, not too long) talks about this a bit.

  6. Earl Killian says:

    Mark, I am not familiar with the gory details, but in the US most private utilities are regulated by some sort of public utilities commission. I believe that body takes into account the utility’s expenditure on conservation just as it would if the utility were building a power plant and getting a return on that investment.

  7. John Mashey says:

    Mark, Earl:
    regarding the rules, a good palceto start is California Energy Commission. Go there, and search: energy utility .

    From the way Peter Darbee talked when I heard him last Fall, many state PUCs weren’t into effective decoupling yet or enough.

    Google: decoupling utility

    gets lots of hits, and Joe wrote about this here.

  8. msn nickleri says:

    Mark, I am not familiar with the gory details, but in the US most private utilities are regulated by some sort of public utilities commission. I believe that body takes into account the utility’s expenditure on conservation just as it would if the utility were building a power plant and getting a return on that investment.

  9. Liquid Roof says:

    Ya its a practical move towards energy saving. I really want to appreciate on these steps. Keep it up.

  10. Very realistic points for saving energy. hopefully many times energy can be saved with methods. Must adopt it for the development of economy.