CEC Approves New California Building Energy Efficiency Standards!

“California officials on Thursday approved energy efficiency standards for new homes and commercial buildings that officials are describing as the toughest in the nation. …

“The new requirements, set to go into effect in 2014, will reduce energy use in California homes and businesses by 25 percent or more, commission officials said.”

Read the full story at the San Francisco Chronicle. I’ll post more details about the new building efficiency standards tomorrow.

For those that want the details now, the full 2013 Building Energy Efficiency Standards Rulemaking is online here.

Plug Load

This post is part of our definitions series on “eco-lingo” and technical terms.

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A plug load is basically any piece of equipment or electronics that plugs into an outlet in a building, including televisions, cell phone chargers, laptops, entertainment equipment, and blenders. Larger appliances are often considered to be a separate category, but are sometimes also categorized as plug loads.

When designing a building to meet code, or to estimate energy use, designers generally take major building systems, such as lighting and HVAC, and major appliances, such as refrigeration and wet cleaning equipment, into account. But it is much harder to estimate all the plug loads that buildings occupants will bring with them. And plug loads have been increasing over time as people accumulate gadgets and equipment. As the other loads in a building are driven down through increased equipment efficiency, optimized controls, and behavioral changes, plug loads are a sizeable percentage of the remaining load.

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There have been a number of efforts to regulate the efficiency of certain plug loads – California approved television efficiency standards in 2009.

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Martin Holladay, at GreenBuildingAdvisor.com, describes the importance of taking plug loads into account when calculating building energy use in a post here.

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A California Plug-Load Energy Efficiency Center is being planned and will be hosted by the University of California, Irvine. My understanding is that it will be modeled after the California Lighting Technology Center and the Western Cooling Efficiency Center, both located at UC Davis.

A pdf of the PowerPoint slides from the planning workshop can be read here.

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What exactly does “sustainability” mean? How about “green”, “eco” or “environmentally friendly”? The truth is that these terms are just vague enough to mean many different things to many different people. With the staggering array of “green” products, ‘lifestyles’ and concepts being promoted by marketers and environmentalists alike (as well as the necessary coining of new terms to match new ideas) our definition series aims to make sense of the rising tide of “eco-lingo” and technical terms.

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The Difference Between the CEC and CPUC

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I know what you’re thinking – a really exciting topic. But this question has actually come up in conversation a remarkable number of times in the last couple of weeks. This is not intended to be a definitive guide, but just to start the delineation between the organizations.

In a future post, I will discuss some of the practical ways that these organizations influence energy efficiency policy in California.

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Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The Basics

The CEC is California’s primary energy policy and planning agency.

The CPUC regulates privately owned electric, natural gas, telecommunications, water, railroad, rail transit, and passenger transportation companies.

This post will focus only on the energy aspects of the CPUC’s role.

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The California Energy Commission (CEC)

The five CEC commissioners are appointed by the California governor and must be approved by the Senate. Terms are five years. Commissioners must represent the following specific areas of expertise: law, environment, economics, science/engineering, and the public at large.

The CEC’s responsibilities include:

  • Forecasting future energy needs and keeping historical energy data.
  • Licensing thermal power plants 50 megawatts or larger.
  • Promoting energy efficiency by setting the state’s appliance and building efficiency standards and working with local government to enforce those standards.
  • Supporting public interest energy research that advances energy science and technology through research, development, and demonstration programs.
  • Supporting renewable energy by providing market support to existing, new, and emerging renewable technologies; providing incentives for small wind and fuel cell electricity systems; and providing incentives for solar electricity systems in new home construction.
  • Developing and implementing the state Alternative and Renewable Fuel and Vehicle Technology Program to reduce the state’s petroleum dependency and help attain the state climate change policies.
  • Administering more than $300 million in American Reinvestment and Recovery Act funding through the state energy program, the energy efficiency conservation and block grant program; the energy efficiency appliance rebate program and the energy assurance and emergency program.
  • Planning for and directing state response to energy emergencies.

The CEC is located in Sacramento, CA.

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The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC)

The five CPUC commissioners are also appointed by the California governor and must be approved by the Senate. Terms are six years.

The CPUC regulates investor owned utilities (IOUs) that distribute electricity and natural gas, including Pacific Gas & Electric Company (PG&E), Southern California Edison (SCE), San Diego Gas & Electric Company (SDG&E) and Southern California Gas Company.

The CPUC does not regulate municipal utilities, such as the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD).

The CPUC’s mission is the following:

  • The California Public Utilities Commission serves the public interest by protecting consumers and ensuring the provision of safe, reliable utility service and infrastructure at reasonable rates, with a commitment to environmental enhancement and a healthy California economy.  We regulate utility services, stimulate innovation, and promote competitive markets, where possible, in the communications, energy, transportation, and water industries.

The CPUC has a number of different divisions; the Energy Division assists Commission activities in the electricity, natural gas, steam, and petroleum pipeline industries. Energy Division handles the regulation and Commission approval of official rates and terms of service for energy IOUs.

Because the regulated California utilities are so large, and their programs reach so many customers, CPUC energy policy decisions and goals have wide influence in California. The CPUC touches programs in energy efficiency, demand response, low-income assistance, distributed generation, and self-generation, among others. It has a role in California climate policy. It is overseeing the CA utilities’ switch to Smart Grid technologies. The CPUC regulated electric generation and procurement, electric rates and markets, gas policy and rates, and electric transmission and distribution.

CPUC headquarters are in San Francisco, CA.

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Major Appliance Efficiency Agreement

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Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

A few days ago, appliance manufacturers and energy efficiency advocates announced an agreement to call for new national minimum efficiency standards to improve energy and water efficiency standards for refrigerators, freezers, clothes washers, clothes dryers, dishwashers, and room air conditioners. The coalition of major appliance manufacturers, their trade union, and the energy efficiency advocates propose that the new national minimum efficiency standards and tax credits be instituted through action by the Department of Energy and by Congress.

According to the press release, the recommended standards and tax credits would save more than 9 quads of energy over 30 years. The recommended water efficiency standards and tax credits for clothes washers and dishwashers would save about 5 trillion gallons of water over 30 years.

Below, I’ve put together a rough timeline of how the proposed standards would take effect:

  • January 2013 – dishwashers would see 14% energy savings and 23% water savings
  • January 2014 – new refrigerator and freezer energy reduced up to 30%
  • June 2014 – room air conditioners would increase in efficiency 10-15%
  • 2015 – top loading clothes washers would have 26% energy savings and 16% water saving compared to current standards
  • 2015 – front loading clothes washers would have 43% energy savings and 52% water savings compared to current standards
  • 2015 – clothes dryers will increase in efficiency 5%
  • 2018 – top loading clothes washers would have 37% energy and water saving compared to current standards

An overview of the agreement is here.

The agreement was signed by major appliance manufacturing members of the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM) and by major energy and water efficiency organizations, consumer groups and environmental organizations including the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, Alliance for Water Efficiency, Alliance to Save Energy, Appliance Standards Awareness Project, Consumer Federation of America, National Consumer Law Center, Natural Resources Defense Council, Northwest Power and Conservation Council, and Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnerships.