Archive Of The Category ‘Uncategorized‘


Go out there and electrify!

I recently worked with the BuildWell team on their new series of super-short videos on building decarbonization. These are intended to introduce key concepts in climate-sensitive design and construction to building practitioners and other audiences. Please share!

Other topics for your viewing pleasure on the BuildWell home page:

  • Upgrading existing buildings
  • Low-carbon concrete
  • Carbon-sequestering landscapes
  • Mass timber & forests
  • Carbon-storing building

P.S. This was entirely unscripted — I just answered questions! The production team decided what to keep, what to toss, and what to “Frankenbite.” (Ask me what that means.)

Turns out we don’t really understand “emergency”

Dan Delurey says it all here, in his Halloween blog post. (There’s lots of good content, but scroll down to his Monty Python op-ed.)

Solving Shelter

February 16, 2022._Petaluma, CA, USA._(CRISSY PASCUAL/ARGUS-COURIER STAFF)

The City of Petaluma, where I live, just declared a shelter crisis.

This is in California, the 5th largest economy in the world — and the largest sub-national economy. Petaluma is not unique in having this problem; it’s all but ubiquitous. We’re doing something very wrong, and it’s shameful — but it’s not inevitable. There are shining examples of cities that have taken effective measures to ensure the availability of affordable, livable, and desirable housing for virtually every income level. Here’s a quick, inspiring read on what needs to happen to fix our housing problems. There’s more about Vienna here, and more about Helsinki here.

Let’s start conversations with our city officials about taking more effective actions to address this social problem that affects us all!

HOT? Here’s what NOT to do!

People with fans iStockphotoAir conditioning is like a globally addictive drug: the more we use it, the more we need it. Its voracious energy demands contribute to the climate disruption that is heating up the planet. That’s only one of several reasons NOT to turn down your thermostat, if your house isn’t getting as cool as you would like. Take 5 minutes to read several practical reasons from The Washington Post that hit closer to home — and our pocketbooks — along with other ways to stay as comfortable as possible through the heat. 

‘Zero Progress’ in California

Luminalt solar installation - Getty Images

Luminalt solar installation on San Francisco home (Getty Images)

Ha! Got you, didn’t I?!

The real story is about the progress we’re making toward zero carbon. A couple of recent milestones are adoption by the California Energy Commission (CEC) of the State’s building energy standards, Title 24-2019, effective January 1, 2020, and CA Senate passage of SB 1477 (Stern, Low-Emissions Buildings Market Development); the bill is now making its way through the State Assembly.

Title 24

While much has been published about the landmark solar mandate in Title 24-2019 — the first time a state has required installation of photovoltaics (PVs) on residential projects — mainstream media outlets have largely overlooked the significance of this code update as a step on the journey, set in motion in 2006, towards the State’s “big, bold” zero net energy (ZNE) goals. Requiring PVs doesn’t achieve ZNE, as the arrays are only required to offset ‘typical electric uses’ — i.e., excluding the typical (and not inconsequential) gas loads of space and water heating, cooking, and clothes drying. However, it’s a step in the right direction. Of particular note is that this version of Title 24, like all its predecessors, was required to meet stringent rules ensuring cost-effectiveness — that is, the standards must save consumers more than they cost. While many who work in this field (myself included) believe the cost-effectiveness test needs to be updated to encompass societal costs associated with fossil fuel combustion, the current rules do ensure that the solar mandate will not pose a financial hardship to new home buyers (notwithstanding propaganda to the contrary by nay-sayers).

In today’s San Diego Union-Tribune, CEC’s Commissioner Andrew McAllister provides a good overview of the requirements. “From day one, the savings from lower electricity bills more than offset any additional payment associated with financing through a mortgage. Costs will be even lower by 2020, especially in large developments where solar equipment will be procured and installed in bulk. The standards also allow larger, community-scale solar instead of individual rooftop systems — another potential cost-reducer. And exemptions to the solar requirement apply for shaded sites and infeasible roof configurations, and where local power is uncommonly inexpensive.” McAllister goes on to remark that the new standards also “encourage grid-friendly technologies such as battery storage, thermal storage and demand response to be installed alongside solar. The standards also make it easier to build an all-electric home — a clean, low-carbon trend that is expected to grow.” Furthermore, as an alternative to purchasing PVs outright, home buyers will have the option of leasing a PV system at very low or no up-front cost.

While it’s somewhat doubtful if California will ever truly mandate ZNE on individual residences — for perfectly good reasons, including the emergence of potentially more cost-effective alternatives such as the community solar approach that McAllister cites — the State is forging ahead on the path to zero carbon, which is, after all, the real goal; ZNE was simply conceived as a means to that end.

SB 1477

SB 1477 is described in a support letter submitted to Senator Stern on June 13 as providing, “technology-neutral incentives directly to builders and developers to design and build low-emissions buildings, and [spurring] innovation in the market for space and water heating equipment in California … This bill also targets incentives to Californians who need and deserve the most support. Higher incentives will go to low income housing and buildings in disadvantaged communities. In addition, space and water heating equipment that are most likely to improve the health, safety, and energy affordability of low-income households will be prioritized.”

The letter, signed by Design AVEnues and nearly 40 other organizations, was drafted by Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), which has been leading the lobbying efforts on this important climate change bill. NRDC’s Pierre Delforge reports, “Following amendments in the Senate, the bill now proposes that the market development programs be funded from an annual allocation of 5 percent of the cap and trade allowance revenues received by electric and gas utilities. SB 1477’s incentive programs are well aligned with the purpose of the cap and trade allowance revenue to fund GHG reduction programs, and using this funding source would avoid any impact on rates.” The bill will be heard by the Assembly Utilities Committee on June 27, and support letters are due by June 21. The draft bill can be reviewed and comments can be submitted on the State’s website (here).


Is there such a thing as TOO MUCH PV on your roof?

My view: NO.

The State of California, however, has another view, revealed through planned changes to our venerable energy code, Title 24 Part 6.

Around a decade ago the State set “big, bold” goals for all new homes to be ZNE by 2020 (also, for all new commercial buildings to be ZNE by 2030). However, in the intervening years since those goals were established, a few devils have been found amidst the details. One such Aha is that, while conceptually having a home produce enough energy to supply its own needs on an annual basis makes perfect sense, at high rates of adoption this presents some grid-level challenges. Specifically, most of the renewable energy production will come from rooftop photovoltaics on sunny afternoons … hmmm … but that’s not when most of the demand occurs! The demand peak occurs later in the day, when people come home and start to cook, tinker with their thermostats, etc. This imbalance is illustrated in the rapidly-becoming-famous “duck curve” graph.

So now there’s concern about “grid harmonization,” and the State is indicating that future versions of the energy code will limit “excess” PV and/or require that it be countered by onsite energy storage to address this imbalance. Even now, “excess” solar energy production is effectively discouraged by utility rate structures that ensure you will never see good value for PV capacity above and beyond your own annual electricity load — not even when it’s there to compensate for natural gas use, for example.

Paradoxically, the State has also acknowledged that as it moves to higher levels of clean energy (via increases in the renewable portfolio standard, or RPS), in the next couple of decades most of the new renewable energy supply will come from PVs. A bit of a disconnect?

Notably absent from presentations on State plans to address the “duck curve” are discussions of providing UTILITY-LEVEL energy storage. While eager to point out that PV is more economical at utility scale (true), they don’t seem to be nearly so quick to comment on whether it might be equally more economical to provide energy storage at utility scale (that seems likely to be true, no?!). This seems an obvious omission and should be added to the public discourse, promptly.

Also absent from the blithe comments about how, really, we should be looking to install utility-scale PV rather than putting it on all the little rooftops, is any observation about the massive ecological impacts associated with utility-scale solar developments.

My vision for a clean energy future includes a diversity of solutions, with solar on rooftops both small and large, wherever it is productive. Just as nature is not efficient, but rather smart, simple economics are not the final determinant of what makes sense. What makes sense is to preserve wilderness for all its uniquely important values, and limit the footprint of intrusive human developments such as solar farms to the greatest extent possible.

Reflections here provoked by some of the presentations at this week’s excellent Symposium on Zero Net Energy Buildings and Beyond, presented by the Emerging Technologies Coordinating Council. My thanks to all of the organizers and speakers for your contributions!

International Finance Corporation and Architecture 2030 Collaborate on Zero Net Carbon Buildings for the developing world.

A fishing village just a few years ago, Shenzhen is now a megacity. Photo: YoTuT

Architecture 2030 once again demonstrates international leadership with this new partnership.

Architecture 2030 and the International Finance Corporation (IFC), a member of the World Bank Group, have partnered to support the international architecture and building community in designing zero net carbon (ZNC)buildings worldwide.

IFC created the EDGE program, a green building certification system with free online software for emerging markets. As part of the partnership, EDGE software has been enhanced to include carbon reporting, as well as recognition for the procurement of off-site renewable energy and carbon offsets.

Read more here.

What technologies and strategies will help increase ZNE adoption?

I am part of a team working on a research project for the California Energy Commission (CEC). As I’m sure many of you know, the State of California has “big, bold” energy goals for the design and construction industry: all new residential construction should be zero net energy (ZNE) by 2020 and all new nonresidential construction should be ZNE by 2030.

The CEC has asked us to find out what priority stakeholders place on research needs for various technologies and strategies that would increase adoption/implementation of ZNE. We are conducting a survey to help answer this question, and hope to reach a wide array of ZNE stakeholders, both inside and outside California (learn more).

Please provide your opinions and insights in a 10-15 minute survey.

Thanks very much ​on behalf of our team: Itron, New Buildings Institute, Electric Power Research Institute, Davis Energy Group, Integral Group​

Cold Climate Zero

Kudos to Energy Futures Group in Hinesburg, VT, which is nearing completion of construction on their new small office building. It’s a conversion of an old farmhouse, and a wonderful example of a cold-climate zero net energy retrofit.
Read more & view video at

Stamp Out Greenwash — Support Greenwash Action!

Longtime Bay Area green building pioneer and activist Jason Grant has started a new project, Greenwash Action. GA is dedicated to pulling the covers on greenwashing shenanigans, particularly those bankrolled by deep-pockets trade groups like the American Chemistry Council. ACC and others have been waging a war against LEED and the USGBC because of the USGBC’s stance on product disclosures, for example. What?! Tell consumers what’s in our products??! You must be joking!

Greenwash Action needs your support NOW. To help GA earn a matching grant, donate today.

Read Jason’s letter:

Dear sustainability leaders,
Thanks to your generosity, Greenwash Action is just $2000 shy of our first goal – when we reach the $5,000 mark, your donations will be matched dollar for dollar in defense of true environmental leadership standards. You can help get us there!

The Congress-mandated National Climate Assessment, scheduled for publication next month, predicts a 2° to 4° temperature rise in the next few decades.  The Assessment confirms that the built environment is implicated in nearly every core climate-related issue: energy, water, natural resources and materials, urban infrastructure, and economic stability.
It all adds up to one incontrovertible truth: we don’t have any more time to waste.  All sectors of the building industry need to unite now around curbing greenhouse gas emissions and mitigating climate impacts.

We’re launching Greenwash Action to take a strong stand against greenwashing in the building sector, but our ultimate goal is to catalyze alignment. We’re calling on the chemical, plastics and timber industries to cease their attacks on LEED and to reposition Green Globes as an entry-level standard, so that we can redirect the time and energy that are currently tied up in negative competition to finding solutions and green and the building industry can lead the way towards a healthy, biodiverse and climate-stable world.

Will you stand with Greenwash Action as we advocate for true environmental leadership?

Thank you for your support, and stay tuned for a preview of our website, coming next week.

Jason Grant
Executive Director<
Greenwash Action

P.S. Greenwash Action received its first media coverage, a profile in Building Green. We have been putting the donations we have received so far to work on our media plan, and aim to generate a lot more coverage surrounding our launch.

P.P.S. Save the date for our Bay Area launch party, May 15 – more details soon!

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