Case Studies

Create A Vision

In response to California’s statewide ZNE goals, San Mateo County Energy Watch (SMCEW) took initiative to draft a Zero Energy Strategic Plan to move San Mateo County and municipalities within the County toward ZNE planning, policy, and building targets. While not yet formally adopted by the County, the County used the Strategic Plan as a guideline in their development of a draft ZNE Plan.

Building a Team/Engaging Internal Stakeholders

Internal Workshop to Develop Goals and Policies

SMCEW received funding from the CPUC and technical support from the New Buildings Institute on behalf of San Mateo County to conduct a workshop for county employees to coordinate and create consensus around ZNE goals and priorities within the county. The workshop included participation from the following departments: Building, Planning, Public Works, the Office of Sustainability, and the Office of Finance and Budgets. The goals of the workshop included:

  • Developing a draft plan,
  • Discussing policy and implementation gaps and opportunities,
  • Identifying stakeholders and developing a communications plan,
  • Developing a plan for alignment of policy and process gaps, and
  • Discussing the role of codes and standards.

The County of San Mateo Draft ZNE Plan was a direct result of this workshop, and identified the following key next steps and targets for the County’s internal ZNE implementation efforts:

  • Assessing a portfolio of existing buildings,
  • Conducting pilot projects for construction of one new ZNE building by 2020 and one retrofit ZNE project by 2023,
  • Integrating ZNE requirements into RFPs and RFQs,
  • Developing project requirements for ZNE developers, and
  • Establishing a ZNE policy for specific building types.

The agenda from the internal workshop is available here.

Best Practices for Building a Team

SMCEW developed two short videos that highlight best practices for building an efficient team that involves building professionals across every stage of the process from design to construction: Zero Energy: The Future of Building and Zero Energy for Building Professionals.

Set Your ZNE Definition and Scale

Going into the internal workshop, SMCEW created a ZNE definition to create context and scope in their Draft ZNE Plan. Their definition is as follows:

  • Either ZNE (strongly encouraged), or, if ZNE is not feasible, Zero Energy Ready. If Zero Energy Ready, must be able to demonstrate measures taken to address a high performance building and have accommodations for renewables in the future.
  • Renewables cover all site energy consumed, not source.
  • Does not allow for renewable energy certificates to count as renewable energy generated.
  • Is able to accurately report energy usage/generation data.
  • Energy purchased from a Community Choice Energy (CCE or CCA) source or other renewable utility portfolio does not count as renewable energy generated. Building must still have on site renewable generation or plan to implement it in the future.
  • Building does NOT consume natural gas.

Create Your Vision and Set Goals

The two main goals of SMCEW’s Strategic Plan are to provide technical support and resources to cities and to facilitate workforce development around ZNE construction. Specifically, SMCEW developed the following commitments to move toward those goals:

  • Support municipalities by developing ZNE Action Plan and policy templates
  • Nurture early adopters and influence developing projects
  • Train professionals about ZNE buildings
  • Provide training and informational materials to building departments and planning commissions

Identify and Engage Key Stakeholders

Internal Stakeholder Engagement

SMCEW was able to recruit champions within internal departments to obtain buy-in from department directors and managers around their Strategic Plan. These champions were willing to attend meetings with SMCEW prior to the internal workshop to better understand what ZNE meant for them, which allowed them to successfully advocate for their department’s involvement in ZNE efforts.

External Stakeholder Engagement

SMCEW took initiative to offer a series of workshops and webinars in May of 2015 to educate and engage building professionals, homeowners, and real estate professionals around ZNE best practices, technologies and implementation approaches, market trends, and technical strategies. These events built upon SMCEW’s Strategic Plan goal of facilitating workforce development.

SMCEW aims to better engage the real estate sector to promote ZNE development on the private sector side. Through a grant from the Clean Coalition’s Peninsula Advanced Energy Community (PAEC), SMCEW is working with developers to create lease language templates targeting the split-incentive between landlords and tenants for commercial ZNE development.


Demonstrate Leadership

Reach Beyond the Energy Code

SMCEW set two main goals as part of the Strategic Plan:

  1. 50% of all new public buildings built to ZNE in 2025
  2. 50% of all new commercial buildings built to ZNE in 2025

These goals were created to provide a step towards the State’s goal of all new and 50% of existing state-owned public buildings to be ZNE by 2025, and all new commercial construction and 50% of existing commercial buildings to be ZNE by 2030.

Lead By Example

While the State did not specifically address local government public buildings as part of the Long Term Energy Efficiency Strategic Plan Goals, SMCEW took their goals a step further to have the County and municipalities within the County lead by example in the public sector, which was formalized by the goal of having 50% of all new public buildings be built to ZNE  in 2025.

Incorporating ZNE Language into RFPs

SMCEW outlined a policy that requires ZNE practices and lifecycle cost analysis to be incorporated into RFPs for all new construction projects by 2018. As part of this, SMCEW hopes to include a checklist to guide developers and project managers toward specific ZNE measures that address life-cycle costs and operations rather than upfront costs.

SMCEW worked with the Bay Area Regional Energy network (BayREN) and consultant DNV-GL to create RFP and Owner’s Project Requirement (OPR) template language for local governments to reference and utilize in their own ZNE policies. The Municipal Resources and Templates packet can be accessed here.

By mimicking an example by OPR that includes ZNE for project requirements, the county would incorporate this into the county’s process for any capital projects. The county emphasizes an integrated design process for ZNE that includes the desired team makeup to be a commissioning agent and energy modeler.

Targeting Municipal Buildings for ZNE Pilots

SMCEW is in the process of identifying current or upcoming municipal projects to implement ZNE design and measures.

Benchmarking and Data Metrics

SMCEW is looking to establish a ZNE policy for specific building types, which would allow for different energy use intensity targets based on the type of building rather than one set of targets for all building types regardless of use and occupancy. This policy will be included in the County of San Mateo’s Sustainable Building Policy that integrates occupancy, water, and energy.


Key Takeaways and Lessons Learned

The key takeaway from SMCEW’s process was that involving different internal departments from the beginning was critical to gaining buy-in and moving policies forward. Through the internal workshop, cross-departmental staff were able to identify challenges and synergistic opportunities before issues could arise, optimizing their efforts and capacities. Holding smaller pre-meetings with key departmental staff to go over ZNE concepts and value statements in advance of the workshop helped maintain buy-in and streamline productivity during the meeting.