CA's Zero Net Energy Law and the Tioga Inn Project

photo of the site of the future Tioga Inn housingStarting in 2007 California set a goal for all new residential construction to be Zero Net Energy (ZNE) by 2020 in the California Strategic Plan.  In 2019 the California Public Utilities Commission upgraded the building code to incorporate elements that would help the state meet those goals. Starting January 1 of this year, all new residential housing developments, e.g. the Tioga Inn, need to meet a minimum standard of energy efficiency per the 2019 Energy Efficiency Building Code (Title 24 Section 6).  While the 2019 building code doesn’t require new buildings to be Zero Net Energy, it does require energy offsets with solar panels or solar panels + energy efficiencies that go beyond the basic building code to bring it closer to zero. (To download What’s New in 2019 fact sheets: low rise residentialnon-residential, hotel/motel)


The proponent of a residential housing project is required to provide a certificate of compliance when he/she applies for a building permit. The certificate will show that the project meets the minimum standards set by the new law. Offsets can be achieved in two ways: 1) prescriptive—a set formula for how many solar panels are required based on square footage of the project or 2) performance—calculated by software when trade-offs are used in combination with solar panels to lower the energy usage score. The updated building code alone will do a lot to make new developments energy efficient. It will require adequate insulation for the climate zone. It will require energy efficient HVAC and appliances, energy efficient lighting, water saving toilets, and low-flow showerheads. It will also require a minimum amount of solar. However, there are some energy-offset options that can lower the overall energy usage even more e.g. more solar panels, ground heat pumps for hot water heater, interior heating, and air conditioning, smart controls, etc.


The California Energy Commission (CEC) updates new construction codes every three years.  Discussions are starting for what should be in the 2022 version. Many concerned citizens attended the August CEC meeting asking that buildings be required to be all-electric.