California Takes Concrete Steps Toward Net-Zero-Energy Buildings


The offices of Integrated Design Associates in San Jose, California, are designed to be net-zero energy and carbon-neutral. Real-time data are available at

California has released an action plan for achieving its goals of net-zero-energy buildings. In 2008, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) created a strategic plan calling for, among other energy-efficiency goals, net-zero-energy commercial buildings by 2030 and net-zero-energy residential construction by 2020. The new action plan grew out of that strategic plan and lists concrete steps the state can take to achieve these goals.

CPUC’s action plan offers common-sense strategies for moving the market toward net-zero-energy performance. Raising minimum energy performance through codes, expanding energy codes to address all energy end uses, developing financial tools for supporting net-zero-energy construction, and supporting integrated design are all mentioned as strategies for new construction. For existing buildings, the action plan suggests tightening code thresholds, requiring energy and carbon emissions labeling, and supporting occupant feedback and training.

California updates its energy codes every three years, leaving only a handful of code cycles before the 2030 target for net-zero-energy commercial buildings. “It’s not going to happen just because in 2027 someone wakes up,” said Commissioner Dian Grueneich of CPUC. The action plan, she says, will ensure that progress toward the net-zero-energy goal is steady, that there are demonstrations of its financial and technical feasibility, and that it will indeed happen.

Several utilities are already working on pilot projects, according to Grueneich, and local governments are already adopting standards that are more stringent than the state standards. San Francisco, for example, adopted green building requirements with an energy-efficient component (see “San Francisco Passes Stringent Green Building Requirements,” EBN Sept. 2008).

Reaction to the action plan, says Grueneich, has been positive from government officials, building owners, and construction industry representatives alike. ( EBN sought out dissenting viewpoints on this issue but came up empty.) Grueneich noted that the positive reaction exists despite the down economy. “The recession is real, and the number of commercial buildings being built is way down,” she said, “but we’re using this time to figure out how to go about net-zero-energy building, so we can do it right the first time moving forward.”

CPUC is launching a new website,, which will house information on a variety of energy-related programs, including the net-zero-energy campaign. Grueneich says that the goal is market transformation. California and a handful of other states, including Massachusetts, have net-zero-energy goals.

For more information:

California Public Utilities Commission
Action Plan

October 1, 2010


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1. Photo: David Wakely
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