Lets Get Technical

A blog about codes, standards, and best practices for solar, energy storage, and microgrids

Let's Get Technical

A blog about codes, standards, and best practices for solar, energy storage, and microgrids

How will the 2022 California Building Standards Code impact the solar-plus-storage industry?

It is that time again–time to update the building codes in California. Like much in the solar industry over the last three years, this new Code cycle brings drastic changes to the California Building Standards Code (CBSC), which updates every three years. The 2019 edition of the CBSC notably included a solar mandate for new homes less than three stories tall, the first and only of its kind in the U.S. Recently, the California Energy Commission released the 2022 CBSC language for public review. The proposed Code updates push even harder for renewable energy integration into the grid, along with greatly increased energy storage capacity. In this blog post, I will overview the key takeaways from the proposed 2022 Code and how it will impact the solar-plus-storage industry.

It’s no secret that California has made a concerted effort to boost the integration of renewables into the grid. California has been striving for energy independence since the 1970s–California’s aggressive building codes and climate legislation have been a veritable policy test bed for decades. As the state’s population steadily grew, so did the magnitude and scope of its climate challenges. But with challenge comes opportunity, and California has only sped up its climate commitments as of late. In 2018, the state set a target of relying entirely on zero-emission electricity sources by 2045. In 2020, the aforementioned “solar mandate” went into effect. This past February, the California Energy Commission (CEC) released the draft language for the 2022 building standards, which will set construction requirements starting in 2023. Keeping the state’s long-term climate and energy goals in mind, here were the three sections of the proposed Code that caught my attention.

Energy Efficiency Requirements

According to an analysis of the proposed building code changes by the California Solar and Storage Association (CALSSA), “The proposed standards also allow builders to meet the energy efficiency requirements by forgoing installation of gas appliances, which will result in more builders hiring installers for solar thermal systems.” In other words, existing energy efficiency requirements may be bypassed by simply not installing gas appliances. 

While it’s possible this leads to the installation of more solar thermal systems, it’s more likely to boost demand for electric heating and cooling systems in general, in an effort to further electrify buildings of all sizes. These electric systems–when powered by rooftop solar or other zero-emissions sources–are not only cleaner but also more efficient than gas appliances, which lose significant energy through waste heat. 

Battery-Ready New Homes

Again, per CALSSA, “The proposed standards will require the wiring of new homes to be “battery-ready,” meaning they must include either a subpanel or split-bus main panel with four backed-up circuits, two of which must go to the refrigerator and a bedroom.” Presumably, the requirement will likely also mean that homes must leave available space in a non-combustible area with proper ventilation such as a garage or exterior wall along the side of the house. 

The impacts of this “battery-ready” mandate are widespread. First and foremost, it creates a path to ease the dreaded duck curve formed as renewables dominate the grid from mid-morning through the early evening, forcing utilities to quickly ramp up electricity generation (often from fossil fuel sources) to meet demand just before the sun rises and just after it sets. Adding more behind-the-meter energy storage enables home and business owners to hold onto their excess power and discharge it at times that the PV array is offline. This, in turn, reduces the spike in net demand in the early morning and around dinnertime. 

Source: U.S. Department of Energy

Battery-ready standards also set the stage for California to be a leader in microgrids and/or virtual power plants later in the 2020s. As more distributed energy storage comes online, utilities may be able to remotely aggregate that idle power and discharge it, at scale and at volume, to the grid to meet demand spikes without ramping up generation. That same power can also be kept local through community-based microgrid solutions designed to boost energy resiliency. In response to last year’s historic wildfires, the California Public Utility Commission approved $200 million in funds for a microgrid development that targets cost-effective multi-property microgrid projects in the state’s most vulnerable communities. The community solar market in California will certainly see a boost from this fund as well as the alternative compliance path for solar on new construction through community solar and energy storage projects. 

Solar-Plus-Storage for All New Commercial Buildings

Last, but certainly not least, the proposed Code changes include a mandate for both solar PV and energy storage to be installed on all new commercial buildings. According to the draft language, solar PV systems must be sized to cover approximately 60% of the building’s electrical loads. A number of factors, including type of building, climate zone and conditioned floor area go into this calculation, so the actual percentages will vary from building to building. The requisite energy storage system then must be “sized to limit exports to the grid to no more than 10%.”

Again, this language is designed to simultaneously increase the number of distributed zero-carbon electricity sources on the grid while not inflating the duck curve. In tandem with the new energy efficiency requirements mentioned in my first point above, the best-case scenario for California’s commercial sector is that all new buildings are electrified as much as possible; powered by renewables to the extent possible; store excess energy on site; and discharge it at a rate and time that makes life easiest for the utility. 

The California energy market and climate targets are unique compared to the rest of the U.S. But aspects of it are replicable throughout the country to create a stronger, more resilient energy economy. While I overviewed just a few sections of the proposed Code, I encourage you to check out resources like the CALSSA website or even the full text of the proposal (if you’re feeling ambitious) for additional information and analysis. Overall, this Code update will be a significant step toward decarbonizing the California electrical grid. 

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