Demonstrate Leadership

Local governments are uniquely positioned to demonstrate leadership through policy and by example. Setting strong policies can influence the direction that building markets across all sectors take toward energy efficiency and clean energy. Demonstrating leadership through renovation of municipal buildings to ZNE performance is also an important step in shifting the culture of building development, as public buildings such as libraries and schools have high visibility and usage.

Reach Beyond the Energy Code

There are several ways to incorporate ZNE practices into local policies — through building codes and ordinances, key planning documents such as General Plans and Climate/Energy Action Plans, permit requirements, incentive programs, and more.

Currently, Title 24 is the baseline requirement set by the CEC that requires new homes to be 24% more energy efficient and new commercial buildings to be more 30% more energy efficient. While this is a good step towards increasing energy efficiency in buildings, several jurisdictions adopted more stringent reach codes to advance their ZNE goals.

Best Practices
  • Incorporate ZNE goals into building codes, Climate Action Plans, Energy Action Plans, General Plans, and other key planning documents.
  • Develop incentive programs for building owners and developers to voluntarily implement ZNE measures.
  • Streamline permitting processes to lower the cost of ZNE buildings and increase the likelihood of Title 24 compliance.
  • Consider adopting energy efficiency or solar mandates as a step toward a more robust ZNE ordinance, as they may be easier to get adopted.
  • Incorporate ZNE language into RFPs and RFQs to build workforce experience and normalize ZNE efforts in the architecture, engineering, planning, and building professions.
Examples of Policy Leadership
  • City of Santa Monica: Adopted an ordinance that requires all new single-family and low-rise multi-family construction to be zero net energy and use 15% less energy than the 2016 CA Energy Code. The ordinance also requires that all new high-rise multi-family and nonresidential construction use 10% less energy than the 2016 CA Energy Code.
  • City of Palo Alto: Adopted a reach code that requires all new construction to perform 15% better than Title 24 requirements and all retrofits to exceed Title 24 requirements by 5% for single-family residential, 10% for multi-family residential, and 5% for nonresidential.
  • City of Lancaster: Set an ambitious goal for the city to become 100% ZNE by 2020, and was able to achieve 54% of its goal by 2014. Adopted a local ordinance requiring builders to provide solar energy systems that produce at least 1 kWh of energy for new homes.
  • County of Santa Barbara: Adopted an Energy Efficiency Standards Policy that requires 50% of County buildings to be in compliance with the County’s ZNE Facilities Resolution by 2025 and 100% compliance by 2035. Case Study: County of Santa Barbara ZNE Resolution (CSE)
  • City of Glendale: Requires installation of radiant roof barriers in concealed attic space of all new residential construction.
  • City of Los Angeles: Mandates minimum thermal emittance and solar reflectance values for roofing materials in residential buildings.
  • City and County of San Francisco: Adopted a reach code requiring GreenPoint Rated for new low-rise residential projects, including minimum 10% less energy consumption than allowed by Title 24, Part 6. Adopted a Better Roofs Ordinance that requires roofs to have some sort of use, including green roofs, solar, or a combination.
  • City of Chula Vista: Requires new residential construction to include electrical conduits for solar and plumbing for solar water heating systems
  • Additional reach codes that exceed Title 24 requirements can be found on the CEC’s website here.

Lead by Example

Moving the municipal building stock toward ZNE showcases energy efficient technology and leading design practices, and can serve as an educational facility or training grounds for the emerging ZNE workforce.

Notable Public ZNE Buildings
  • West Berkeley Public Library: The West Berkeley Public Library is the first library in California to achieve ZNE performance. The building was renovated with ZNE measures in alignment with the City’s Climate Action Plan and corresponding energy and GHG reduction targets. Further details and a more in-depth case study can be found on this West Berkeley Public Library Case Study (NBI)
  • Watsonville Water Resources Center: The Watsonville Water Resources Center supports the City’s Water Recycling Project, which recycles water to conserve resources and provide water stability to farmers through Santa Cruz and Monterey counties. The building was designed to emphasize sustainable water use due to its role with the Water Recycling Project, but has also integrated overall low resource use to function as a ZNE building as well. Further details and a more in-depth case study can be found in this report on ZNE Case Study Buildings (Energy Design Resources).
  • SMUD East Campus Operations Center: SMUD’s East Campus Operations Center was designed to be a ZNE facility that incorporates energy efficient technology and measures along with renewable energy production. While the facility has experienced challenges in operating at the ZNE level during occupancy, SMUD developed a task force to address the discrepancy from design to performance and is continuing to move toward its ZNE goal.
  • Culver City Julian Dixon Library: The library was renovated to become Los Angeles County’s first ZNE building,

Benchmarking and Data Metrics

The ZNE process does not end once a building is built or retrofitted. Benchmarking is a critical strategy to achieve ZNE – to understand the baseline energy use before retrofitting and to evaluate whether the building is performing to standard. ZNE certification requires the building to perform at the intended level for at least one year. Often times, ZNE designed, constructed, and retrofitted buildings perform worse than expected due to occupant behaviors and lack of knowledge or experience utilizing efficient technology. Benchmarking can serve another role here by educating occupants about their energy use and identifying specific places where further energy efficiency measures can be targeted.

Best Practices for Benchmarking and Defining Metrics
  • Before implementing ZNE measures, collect data from your existing building stock to determine where ZNE retrofits would be the most effective to reach your goals.
  • Determine what types of energy will be calculated in your metrics according to your ZNE definition.
  • Incorporate outcome-based energy codes that allow for better data about actual performance, adjustable tracking and reporting tools, commitment and enforcement mechanisms, and metering capabilities.
  • Collect consistent and accurate data before, during, and after any retrofits or new construction.
  • Ensure that all technologies (including energy efficient appliances, lights, and data collection meters) are working properly upon installation and consistently monitor those technologies to avoid downgrades in performance. Be flexible in implementation and operation of ZNE technologies, as buildings may not operate sufficiently as planned at first.
  • Conduct energy modeling during planning and design phases to determine what measures may be most effective given the expected occupants, building size and location, and other factors.
  • Conduct detailed and accurate monitoring and commissioning after implementation.
  • Keep your consultants on retainer for one year after the building is built or retrofitted so that they can work with you on occupant energy use and plug load management as needed.

Key Resources