New standards adopted Wednesday by the California Energy Commission will likely require that all new commercial buildings, including high-rise apartments, be outfitted with photovoltaic solar panels and large batteries. But despite pleas from environmental groups, they do not go as far as mandating that all new single-family homes go fully electric to the exclusion of natural gas-powered heating and cooking.
The energy efficiency code passed unanimously and now heads to the California Building Standards Commission, which is scheduled to take up the matter in December. The new code is expected to take effect Jan. 1, 2023.
If the version passed Wednesday receives final approval, builders of new single-family homes will have to install 240-volt outlets so that homeowners can install electric-vehicle chargers and large home batteries. Homebuilders will also have to to install higher-volume ventilators as a way of removing harmful emissions from natural-gas appliances.
They will also be encouraged, but not required, to put in electric-powered heat pumps that the commission says warm rooms and water more efficiently than natural gas. That had been a sticking point, with environmentalists saying more aggressive action is needed to phase out natural gas appliances, and building industry groups warning they put too much strain on the power grid and are not yet widely available.
A representative of photovoltaic solar company SunPower welcomed the energy commission's decision to mandate that new commercial buildings, as well as small businesses and even schools, be equipped with solar panels and battery energy storage.
"Rather than confronting our challenges with rolling blackouts, the new commission standards give Californians resiliency and provide greater opportunities to meet the needs of the 21st century grid, all while providing economic benefits with savings on electricity bills — especially for working families," Suzanne Leta, head of policy and strategy for SunPower, said in a news release after the commission's vote.
For the state's building industry, the focus now turns to the next energy code coming in three years. Expectations are that there will be even more pressure to require that new homes be all-electric.
Dave Dmohowski, executive officer of the Homebuilders Association of Kern County, said he was pleased that the commission did not require this time that new homes have heat pumps instead of natural gas heaters. But he said he worries that will happen later in spite of rising electric rates.
"Consumers are going to get hammered by that eventually," he said, adding that since 2010, energy codes updates have added $30,000 to the cost of building a new home.
Chris Ochoa, senior counsel for codes, regulatory and legislative affairs for the California Building Industry Association, said the industry was neutral on Wednesday's proceeding because it merely encouraged and did not mandate all-electric appliances for new homes.
Going forward, however, he said the commission should consider widening its focus to include help for existing California homes, not just new ones. Noting that about 71 percent of the state's housing stock predates the introduction of energy standards in 1980, he suggested the agency offer grants or rebates to help them go electric.
The energy commission said the newly adopted code will support public health, address the climate emergency and make progress toward the state's clean energy goals.
It said homes and businesses are responsible for about a quarter of California's greenhouse gas emissions.
"This foundation will help the state meet its critical long-term climate and carbon neutrality goals," the commission said in a news release.