Zero Net Energy Homes and Plug Loans

Suzanne Foster Porter

Did you know that the retirement home you’re planning to build near the beach in sunny California ten years from now most likely will be Zero Net Energy (ZNE)? The state of California has a target for all new residential buildings built after 2020 to use no more energy than they produce onsite using solar or other renewable energy technologies (commercial buildings built after 2030 have the same requirement).

In early November, I presented at the California Plug Load Research Center (CalPlug) Workshop on plug loads in ZNE homes. What I’ve found is that architects know how to design ZNE homes and builders have increasingly figured out how to build them. Unfortunately, however, given all of the electronic gadgets and appliances that we tend to collect in our homes, no one has really put together a comprehensive successful strategy for people to live in one efficiently. This means that ZNE buildings are not often truly ZNE after homeowners move in.

Ecova’s Research & Policy team has received funding from the California Investor-Owned Utilities over the last few years to research this topic more fully and teach classes on it to builders, architects, contractors and interested homeowners throughout California. The CalPlug workshop was an opportunity to share what we’ve learned and to trade ideas with others working in the field.

My colleagues and I recently presented our research to 4E (Efficient Electrical End-Use Equipment International Energy Agency) showing that the power draw of devices used to watch movies, listen to music, or browse the web can range from a few watts to nearly 100 watts. Consumers don’t tend to think about the energy tradeoffs of their iPads, TVs, cable boxes, computers, and other plug load equipment today, but arming interested home owners with customized information about the energy use of their electronics could help future ZNE home owners actually achieve ZNE.

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