Once upon a time (in 2008), the King of California (Governor Schwarzenegger) decreed that “By the year 2020, all new homes built in my Kingdom shall be zero-net-energy.” Even with 12 years to prepare, this legislative goal made a lot of news in the building industry. At least for a while it did. Now, halfway into 2020, many people, inside and outside of California are wondering if it has happened. Did all the King’s horses and all the King’s minions enact the King’s decree? Kidding aside, depending on who you ask, the answer still could be:
The range of answers is not surprising, given how confusing the program has been from the beginning. But the most accurate response would be D: not really. Okay, arguably, that’s the same as B: No!, but the “not really” part is worthy of explanation, because as I learned last week, not even everyone in the energy business in California has gotten the memo.
First—and you probably know this, but it’s an important part of the story—zero-net-energy is defined as netting out a home’s energy usage to zero by providing renewable energy (generally, produced onsite) on an annual basis.
After the governor made this pronouncement, state agencies, utilities, and other energy wonks sharpened their pencils and got busy figuring out how to make it happen. This resulted in a fairly sharp increase in the slope of the curve of energy efficiency improvements required by the State’s energy code (Title 24, Part 6), which gets ratcheted up every three years. At the same time, photovoltaic (PV) installations were rapidly multiplying—due both to the zero-net-energy directive and to the state’s Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, which (among other things) set a lot of wheels in motion to increase renewable energy production. In…