Energy Efficiency

Local governments uniquely positioned on building decarbonization

Due to their control of buildings, local governments are uniquely positioned to implement building decarbonization, said Panama Bartholomy, Director of the Building Decarbonization Coalition, said on Dec. 11.

And while California is getting a lot of attention these days when it comes to building decarbonization, several other states are also taking action in this area as well, he noted at the gridCONNEXT 2019 conference in Washington, D.C.

Bartholomy made his comments as part of a panel discussion that assessed the building decarbonization and electrification trend and tried to answer the question of whether the U.S. has reached peak natural gas in buildings.

Bartholomy said that “right now, building electrification is the fastest growing clean energy sector we’ve ever seen. By the middle of next year, forty percent of Californians will live in a local jurisdiction that’s adopted a building decarbonization policy.”

The California-based Building Decarbonization Coalition  unites building industry stakeholders with energy providers, environmental organizations and local governments to help electrify California's homes and workspaces with clean energy.

In recent months, several cities in California have passed measures to decarbonize their buildings, mandating or encouraging the use of electrification for heating and cooking instead of natural gas.

In July, Berkeley, Calif., became the first in the U.S. to ban natural gas hookups in new low-rise buildings and homes. More recently, San Jose passed policies to encourage the move from natural gas to electricity.

Bartholomy noted that 23 cities in California have adopted a local building code to restrict the growth of the natural gas network.

California-based investor-owned utility Pacific Gas & Electric, which is a member of the Building Decarbonization Coalition and the fifth largest distributor of natural gas in the country, has said that it supports any local government that wants to help the utility restrict the growth of its natural gas network, Bartholomy noted.

PG&E’s stance is that it knows “it doesn’t fit with where California is going on climate and we can’t afford to maintain it out into the future,” he said.

Bartholomy said that “most of these local governments have climate action plans and when you look at the portfolio of the emissions and where they’re coming from in the state…about two-thirds of our emissions are coming from buildings and transportation. For most local governments, that’s ninety percent.”

He noted that when it comes to tackling emissions from buildings, local governments are unique in that they have control over buildings.

“If you look at where local governments are going to be able to use some of their authority and some of their power, it’s going to be focused in on buildings,” Bartholomy said.

Earlier this year, the coalition released a “Roadmap to Decarbonize California’s Buildings,” which lays out a plan for California to cut building emissions 20 percent in the next six years and 40 percent by 2030 - and to adopt zero-emission building codes for residential and commercial buildings by 2025 and 2027, respectively.

While California in many ways has become ground zero for the electrification push, other states are also taking action on this front, Bartholomy said, including Minnesota, Colorado, New York and Washington State.

He said that New York is putting together an action plan for building decarbonization “and I think they’re going to quickly shoot right beyond California.” The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority is working on the action plan.

CEC OKs first local energy efficiency standards that go beyond 2019 requirements

In related news, the California Energy Commission (CEC) on Dec. 11 approved six applications for local energy ordinances that exceed statewide requirements of the state’s 2019 building energy efficiency standards

The ordinances focus on building decarbonization including five that move toward building electrification.

Local ordinances approved include the following requirements: 

  • City of Menlo Park: New residential construction must use electric space and water heating, but may use gas cooking and fireplaces. New nonresidential construction must be all-electric and install solar generation. Allows for some exceptions, on a case-by-case basis;
  • Cities of San Jose, San Mateo, and Santa Monica and County of Marin: New buildings that include natural gas are required to be more energy efficient than all-electric buildings;
  • City of West Hollywood: New buildings and major modifications must include either solar photovoltaic, solar thermal, or a vegetative roof, and larger buildings must have additional energy and water efficiency measures.

The CEC on Dec. 11 also approved the 2019 California Energy Efficiency Action Plan, which addresses building energy efficiency, efficiency in the industrial and agricultural sectors, barriers to energy efficiency for low-income and disadvantaged communities and using efficiency to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in buildings.

Study says home electrification crucial to Calif. decarbonization

A study released earlier this year argued that electrification of homes in California can have a deep and rapid impact on reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the state.

The study, commissioned by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, and Southern California Edison, found electrification could reduce greenhouse gas emissions in single family homes by about 30% to 60% in 2020, compared with a natural gas-fueled home. And, as California draws closer to its goal of 100% clean energy by 2045 and emissions from electricity generation decrease, the emission reductions are estimated to increase to between 80% and 90% by 2050.

Last fall, SMUD partnered with national homebuilder D.R. Horton to build 104 all-electric homes in two new neighborhoods. At the time, SMUD said it expected to continue to work with home builders on its electrification efforts.

The September-October 2019 issue of Public Power Magazine focused on public power utilities and electrification.


Among the articles in the issue was one that focused on electrification of buildings.