Landmark Decision Moves State Closer to All-Electric Building Standards

image Source: California Energy Commission

image Source: California Energy Commission

By Wendy Chou

On August 11, the California Energy Commission (CEC) unanimously voted to adopt changes to the 2022 Building Code that laid out several measures promoting electrification in buildings that are slated to take effect (if approved in a final step by the California Building Standards Commission) on January 1, 2023.

The Good News

The Code now specifies efficient electric heat pump technology as a baseline for new residential construction and small commercial buildings. Heat pumps, which can be used both for space heating and cooling, use a completely different principle of heat transfer instead of heat generation, which means they are extremely energy efficient and cost-effective. According to an estimate on bobvila.com, over one winter season, a customer who might pay $850 to power a natural gas furnace or $900 to power an electric traditional furnace, would pay only $500 to power a heat pump. 

Yesterday’s vote also supported the expansion of solar photovoltaic (PV) system and battery storage standards for homes in California. Solar plus storage is viewed as a critical component of the state’s renewable energy infrastructure given the intermittent availability of solar energy.  The new code also requires improvements in ventilation standards for gas stoves, given new findings on the negative health impacts to indoor air quality from gas cooking.

Positive Energy

One reason to take the CEC’s move as a strong win was the sizeable human energy factor that was demonstrated in yesterday’s virtual hearing. Environmental activists and concerned residents stepped up in large numbers to make public comments. “Almost 100 people testified and only three were opposed,” reported Diane Bailey, Executive Director of the organization MenloSpark. This outpouring of public support shows that more people are mobilizing to demand clean energy for California. 

With this decision, California stepped into the spotlight as the first in the nation to approve electric heat pumps as a baseline technology in building codes. (As seen with automotive standards, California’s large economy often signals likely shifts in other states’ policies.) One additional advantage of heat pumps is their flexibility to meet both heating and cooling demands. As extreme heat events are expected to worsen in regions — including the Bay Area — that have not relied on air conditioning in the past, the incentivizing of heat pumps via the new code will not only mitigate emissions, but also boost California’s climate resilience.

More Must Be Done to Transition to All-Electric

Most electrification experts agreed, however, that much more work lies ahead, especially in light of the recent IPCC Assessment Report outlining a shrinking time frame during which to prevent extremely damaging climate impacts. Many expressed disappointment that the codes stop short of fully requiring all-electric new construction across the board. Linda Hutchins-Knowles, Senior Manager of Acterra’s Karl Knapp GoEV Program commented, “While I applaud California’s ambitious new Energy Code — an important step towards all-electric buildings — it’s essential that the next version of the Energy Code require all-electric buildings to protect Californians from the health impacts of dirty gas in their homes and the climate impacts of methane gas.” She added, “I’m celebrating the forward progress but lamenting that they didn’t adopt an all-electric code this cycle. The most recent IPCC report shows that we are in code red for humanity and we must act even more boldly to rapidly and equitably transition off of dirty fossil fuels to clean, renewable energy.”

Another pressing challenge that continues is focusing more attention on equity and beneficial electrification for all. “Building all-electric homes that can run on 100% clean energy is more affordable, improves air quality in homes, and lowers building costs — it should be the standard statewide. We look forward to making clean technologies more accessible to Californians that will keep them safe from extreme heat, doing more to prioritize the most vulnerable communities in this process, and centering equity in this transition,” said Jose Torres, California director, Building Decarbonization Coalition.

Further Reading
Check out the summary of the California Energy Commission’s decision here.
Interested in supporting building electrification? Visit our Take Action page!

 


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