Editor’s Note:  The CGBB is always pleased to have Sarah Grilli contribute, and here is her latest post:

On Tuesday January 12, 2010 California became the first state in the USA to pass a state-wide building code that requires comprehensive sustainable construction and energy reduction. Currently voluntary, the CalGreen Codes are mandatory starting January 2011.

The codes focus on all aspects of sustainable buildings (materials, energy, water, construction and other waste). An important piece of the legislation that media failed to mention, however, is the requirement for building commissioning and post occupancy systems management. This often overlooked piece is seen as a huge victory by the USGBC whose LEED version 3.0 also placed significant emphasis on systems performance elements.

Several California environmental organizations such as the Sierra Club and NRDC along with, Build-it-Green and the USGBC (the two leading CA organizations with private green rating systems) have opposed certain elements of the codes.  A key concern for some of these groups is the fear the new code will allow developers to market a development as “green” by building to code instead of the more stringent private rating systems.  Thus, the new codes may cause marketplace confusion about the definition of a “green” building.

These concerns are legitimate.  The fight to define “green,” is the subject of constant debate.  Take the term “organic” for example.  The federal “organic” label is regularly the subject of litigation and debate.  Is “green” different?

As sustainable building measures become commonplace, the building community and the public will strive to comprehend what elements make a building “green.”  People may still opt for buildings that exceed the State’s green code, but the state now provides an easier option.  As long as the codes are enforced, smaller California communities without any green elements in their building codes will benefit enormously. This is precisely the reason a national energy efficiency building code is needed.

It is possible that “green building” will follow a similar path as “organic,” and the federal government will pass a national energy efficiency building code (See our post on the subject here and a fact sheet from the EPA here). There will always be variations on quality, but at the end of the day what’s most important is that “green building” practices become the norm.

ESolar, based out of Pasadena, CA, just announced a deal to help build a series of solar thermal power plants (AKA concentrating solar power or CSP) in China capable of generating 2 gigawatts (2,000 megawatts).  Under the arrangement, eSolar will provide Shandong Penglai Electric Power Equipment Manufacturing with the technology and information to build a $5 billion series of CSP power plants.

China has set a goal for 15% of the nation’s energy to come from renewable resources by 2020. The Associated Press reported on Saturday that due to market pressures, and recent success in generating renewable energy the Chinese government may increase that goal to 20%. Further, Chinese law requires that energy companies buy all energy available through renewable sources (such as wind, solar, and geothermal) before they can use energy from non-renewable sources such as coal.

This deal not only shows China’s interest in generating power from renewable sources, it also shows China’s interest in acquiring knowledge about alternative fuel technologies.  Though China is not allowed to export any technology acquired under the deal, all of the manufacturing for the plants will occur in China.  With that kind of expertise, it will be tough to keep Chinese industry from using the knowledge to build similar plants in China.

ESolar counts Idealab, Google, and Oak Investment Partners as some of its investors.  The New York Times also ran an interesting story about the eSolar deal and some of China’s apprehension about CSP.

Happy New Year!

Publishing a blog is a far cry from writing a book, let alone a number of best-selling books, so my credentials for reviewing Tom Friedman’s book, Hot, Flat, and Crowded, may be a little thin.  But, since I recently read the book, it’s a free country, and I do publish a blog, here goes…buckle up, it’s the California Green Building Blog’s first book review!

Tom Friedman is a columnist for the New York Times among other publications.  He also writes non-fiction books, and back in 2005, he wrote the wildly popular bestseller, The World Is Flat (about the tech revolution).  I read The World Is Flat, as well as Hot, Flat, And Crowded, and I will say I like Mr. Friedman’s easy-to-read style.  As with most essayists, he finds a topic of the times, researches the heck out of it, and comes up with conclusions (though often not really his own).

Hot, Flat, and Crowded follows that model.  It is a quick review of the climate crisis and how we can solve the problem of global warming.  However, I think Friedman was a little “late to the party” with The World Is Flat, (written in 2005 about the tech revolution) and I think he’s a little late with Hot, Flat, And Crowded.  Anyone who saw Inconvenient Truth, or anyone who has been following the climate crisis, will find some of the ideas a little stale.

But, don’t get me wrong;  Hot, Flat, and Crowded is enjoyable.  Mr. Friedman condenses the need to “Green” the world into some convenient and, yes, some unique themes and provides examples of those themes in action.  He has a knack for getting to the point which I appreciate, but there are some places where that comes at the expense of facing hard facts.  For example, his “feel-good” story about an Indonesian oil and gas company’s preservation of a rain forest gives light treatment of the unique market forces at work.

Hot, Flat, and Crowded will grab the attention of  readers with any level of expertise in Green.  I did find some of Friedman’s conclusions compelling – particularly some of the terms he coins, and his comparison of the green movement to the civil rights movement.  The book is well-organized, and won’t take long to read (unless you read it in 10 minute blocks on the subway like I did).  Further, the statistics Friedman compiles are unique and staggering.

As with most climate change research these days, the numbers are depressing, and Friedman doesn’t shy away from shock value.  Thankfully, the second half of the book focuses on solutions.  From a Green building perspective, Friedman’s discussion of appliance energy efficiency, metering, and smart grid opportunities is particularly interesting.  Thankfully, Friedman spends a decent amount of time on those topics.

Pick up Hot, Flat, and Crowded if you want some great new stats and some new thoughts and themes for redirecting the Unites States mentality.  Also, stay tuned for our next book review.  I’m almost done with Al Gore’s Our Choice…a far more comprehensive work.

UPDATE: Click Here For Our Review Of Our Choice, By Al Gore

One of the most interesting sessions I attended at Greenbuild discussed sustainable neighborhoods.   Greg Searle from One Planet Communities provided a great case study of Sonoma Mountain Village (SOMO), a new community being built in Sonoma California.

SOMO, a partnership between developer, Codding Enterprises, and consultant, BioRegional, is a fantastic example of green building.  Not only is SOMO striving to be a net zero community, it is also being built on a defunct business campus, so it is a brownfield site.  Along with municipal buildings, the 200 acre development will include commercial, office, retail, and residential space including 1,900 homes of all sizes and types for sale and rent.    According to the SOMO website, the development has already generated more than 600 jobs, and will lead to 4,400 jobs by completion.

One Planet Communities is a fantastic concept, and I love the flexibility it offers… flexibility as long as you hit the very high benchmarks, which is not the easiest thing to do…. To achieve designation as a One Planet Community, a development must follow these ten principles:

  1. Zero Carbon – All buildings and their fittings and fixtures must be energy efficient and supplied by renewable energy.
  2. Zero Waste – At least 70% of waste by weight to be reclaimed, recycled or composted and ideally no more than 2% should be sent to landfill.
  3. Sustainable Transport – CO2 emissions of persons travelling to and from the site and within it must be reduced relative to an agreed regional benchmark. Ideally all unavoidable CO2 emissions from transport should be offset by a certified carbon sequestration scheme.
  4. Local & Sustainable Materials – Use of local, reclaimed, renewable, recycled and low environmental impact materials in construction and estate management should be increased and optimised.
  5. Local & Sustainable Food – Healthy diets should be promoted and minimum targets achieved for supply of organic or low-environmental impact food and local sourcing.
  6. Sustainable Water – Water efficiency and recycling must be promoted in line with country-specific best practice.
  7. Natural Habitats & Wildlife – Local biodiversity and natural resource stocks must be increased.
  8. Culture & Heritage – Valuable aspects of local culture and heritage must be maintained, enhanced or revived.
  9. Equity & Fair Trade – Targets must be set to boost the local economy, notably in disadvantaged areas, and to ensure a set ratio of imported goods are fair trade certified.
  10. Health & Happiness – Health and happiness of residents must be promoted based on emerging findings from ‘happiness’ research and periodic residents’ surveys

OK, I know some of these categories may sound like “fluff,” so you’ll have to go to the Principles Page on the One Planet Community website to read more.

The beauty of One Planet’s concept is the lack of rigid  checklists found in the LEED for Neighborhood Development (LEED-ND) system (just emerging from pilot phase).  LEED-ND is certainly a step in the right direction, but I think the One Planet Communities approach makes more sense for neighborhoods.  LEED works well for buildings because builders want and need uniformity in methodology.  Costs come down when you can reuse building methods from one building to the next.  But neighborhoods are regional and unique.   One Planet Communities’ flexibility acknowledges that difference with a simple approach that is easy to understand.  In the end, the standards are set high, and that’s what matters.

It is unclear if SOMO will strive for LEED-ND, and with One Planet Communities certification under its belt, one has to wonder if a LEED-ND designation for SOMO is necessary at all.

I just returned from the USGBC Greenbuild conference in Phoenix, AZ, and it was great! Roughly 28,000 people attended the three day conference, and there were over 1,000 exhibitors.  I will spend the next few weeks posting about the sessions I attended, but first I want to relay a funny and poignant story.

Al Gore was the keynote speaker, and he has a new book out (Our Choice: A Plan To Solve The Climate Crisis).  He is a very gifted speaker, and told the following anecdote.

Mr. Gore spoke with the US representative to the upcoming climate conference in Copenhagen, Denmark.  When Mr. Gore asked the representative how he thought the conference would go, the representative said “we’ll be fine.”  Mr. Gore found this remark quite unsettling and used a joke he once heard from the famed Minnie Pearl to bring home the point. Here’s the joke…

A farmer was involved in a car accident and sued the other driver for the farmer’s injuries.  The opposing attorney was cross-examining the farmer and said, “Sir, isn’t it true that at the scene of the accident you stated you were ‘fine’?”

The farmer replied. “Well, I was driving down Martin Road when the fella over there…”

The attorney interrupted. “Did you, or did you not say that you were ‘fine’?”

The farmer, patiently paused and then started again.  “Well it’s not that simple.  See, I was driving down Martin Road when the fella over there came into my lane and hit my truck and trailer.  My horse and I were thrown, and we were lying there on the road.  After some time, a policeman came up and saw my horse writhing in pain.  ‘This animal is suffering,’ said the policeman. ‘I’m gonna shoot him to put him out of his misery.’ Well, that’s just what the policeman did, and then the policeman turned to me with that gun still smokin’. ‘How are you feelin?’ the policeman asked.   I told that policeman ‘I feel fine.’

The moral of the story is one I think we all can see.  It’s easy to say everything is “fine” when you have a gun pointed at your head, but the truth is there may be a lot of hurt hiding.

There was plenty of “feel-good” praise going on at Greenbuild, and I guess that’s better than the pain of facing the daunting numbers associated with climate change.  Mr. Gore hit the nail on the head, however and drove home the idea that it’s not enough to just be involved in the solution.  The United States has to make real progress, and now.  The US government can not go on saying things will be fine without tackling climate change aggressively at all angles.

The angle we promote here at the CGBB is that we need to fix our buildings.  If our buildings are efficient, then we won’t need foreign oil to heat and power them.  You don’t even have to believe in climate change, and this is not a question of political allegiance. Dependence on foreign oil jeopardizes our national security, and that is a non-partisan issue.

The current version of the climate change bill before congress doesn’t even address building inefficiencies, and buildings are the single largest producer of greenhouse gasses in the world.  The disconnect between political pressure and reality is real and vast.  The original Waxman-Markey bill contained a national building code to address energy efficiency.  Let’s hope the climate change bill that eventually makes it to a vote gets back to that priority.

Stay tuned for more information from Greenbuild…..In the meantime, contact your congressional representatives by clicking here, and tell them you want energy efficiency guidelines and mandates in a national building code!

AB 920 was signed into law last week.  The law requires that utilities pay for energy they receive through net metering.  We have followed AB 920 (previously AB 1920) here at the CGBB since we posted our first articles nearly a year ago.  AB 920 is the common-sense approach to net metering.  

Net metering is an arrangement whereby utilities purchase power from consumers who generate power from solar arrays or small wind turbines.   Previously, utilities would provide credits against a utility bill.  Starting in 2011, utilities will be forced to pay power-producers wholesale rates for the power (if a credit remains at the end of the calendar year).   Cash compensation to the original power producer makes sense because the utility makes money by selling that same power to end users.  

AB 920 is a great step, but California needs to travel light years before we realize the “million solar roofs” idea.  At the very least, California needs to abandon the limits on the sizes of residential power production.  Currently, to be eligible for net metering, residences must limit the size of their solar array or wind turbine.  PG&E and other utilities argue that larger arrays and turbines will result in higher electricity rates for those not participating in net metering.  This argument can not be summarily dismissed.  There are legitimate concerns about reliability from residential power producers.  However, utility concerns can be addressed in future legislation (such as infrastructure service fees or production guarantees for net meter users over a certain size).   I appreciate that ideas such as this were left out of AB 920 in order to get it passed, but by no means does this mean the work is done.

Also, the net metering program has an overall cap, and after the cap is met residential power producers are not compensated for their power produced.  AB 560, proposed by Assemblymember Nancy Skinner, representing the 14th District, would have raised the cap for net metering power available for purchase from 2.5% of peak power to 5% of peak power.  PG&E supported that bill, but it died in committee .  For an article on some of the issue with the bill, click here.

AB 920 represents a positive step for residential solar and wind power in California, but we have miles to go before we sleep.

West Coast Green is one of the largest green conferences in the United States with roughly 14,000 attendees last year. This year the conference is October 1 – 3 at Fort Mason in San Francisco.  The conference has a very large exposition area with well over a hundred participants in the manufacturing, energy, and building industries. There are dozens of top speakers covering all aspects of sustainable development and green trends.

Attendance in the expo area (usually $40)  is $20 if you click this link.  Attendance to hear speakers is $795 for 3 days and $355 for one day.

Exposition space is still available.

Click Here if you want to register or get more information on West Coast Green.

There are two great events in the Bay Area on Thursday, June 11!  Greentech Media and SRI International are hosting a very compelling Green Building Summit in Menlo Park, and the San Francisco Business Times announces their 2009 Bay Area Green Business Award Winners at a dinner/reception at the San Francisco Hilton.

The Green Building Summit is an all day event with a cocktail/networking reception in the evening.  The topics and speakers look top notch and are focused on emerging businesses and research.  There will be plenty to gain from topics including, new business models, new materials, financing/stimulus, and business strategy.  Also, there will be a chance to meet with representatives from the 2009 Clean Tech Open finalists.  Click here for more information.

As the topic suggests, the San Francisco Business Times event promises to be light on substance, and heavy on fun.  It will be a networking schmoozefest and a wonderful evening to catch up with colleagues, or make new business connections in a festive atmosphere.  Click here for more information. 

Look for our own Sarah Grilli at the Business Times event.  Sarah just passed the LEED AP exam, so make sure to extend congratulations when you see her.  Way to go, Sarah!

Every now and then there is one of those moments when you ask “why didn’t they do this before?”  Well, the launch of the Berkeley FIRST program is exactly one of those moments.  With the help of Renewable Funding, LLC, Berkeley, CA now offers a program where residential homeowners can install a photovoltaic solar array on their home with no money down.

Renewable Funding, LLC, a private company, created this “win-win” financial services product for municipalities and homeowners, and Berkeley, CA is the first taker.  For Berkeley, Renewable Funding underwrites (AKA bankrolls) revenue bonds that pay for the installation of solar arrays.  Then, through a separate line item on a property owner’s property tax bill, the bonds are paid down over a 20 year term.  If the property owner sells the home, the debt obligation for the solar array (just like the array itself) stays with the property.

Boulder County, CO took  a different approach. Berkeley hired Renewable Funding, LLC to finance and administer the bonds, but Boulder hired Renewable Funding to only administer the bonds.  Whether Renewable Funding bankrolls the program or not, the model seems to work, and solar arrays get installed faster.

Look for this type of program in your California community!  AB 811 (amending Streets and Highways Code 5898.12 et seq.) passed last year authorizes just such an initiative.  Under S&H Code 5898, Renewable Funding is working with the California Statewide Communities Development Authority to implement California FIRST this summer.

Read more about Renewable Funding, LLC by clicking here.

Read more about the Berkeley FIRST program by clicking here.

Read more about the California FIRST program by clicking here. 

 * A Public-Private Partnership is a partnership between a government entity and a private entity that results in the private entity delivering services traditionally offered by government. (e.g. a toll road).


Assembly Member, and Speaker Pro Tempore, Lori Saldaña from the 76th Assembly District (based in San Diego County) has sponsored a great idea!  AB 212 proposes to have all new residential buildings in California meet zero net energy by 2020.  AB 212 was sponsored last year, and passed the Assembly before dying in the State Senate (much like AB 1920 which died last year, but was resurrected as AB 920 this session.  Check out our quick update of former AB 1920 below).

AB 212 proposes:

“The Warren-Alquist State Energy Resources Conservation and Development Act requires the State Energy Resources Conservation and Development Commission to adopt building design  and construction standards and energy and water conservation standards to reduce the wasteful, uneconomic, inefficient, or unnecessary consuption of energy, including energy associated with the use of water. 
This bill would require the commission to adopt, in collaboration with specified parties,  building design and construction standards and energy and water conservation standards to require new residential constructions commenced on or after January 1, 2020, or on a date by which the commission determines that the use of photovoltaic technology is cost effective, whichever is later, to be zero net energy buildings, as defined.”


The bill defines a “zero net energy building” as:

“[A] building that implements a combination of building energy efficiency design features and clean onsite or near-site distributed generation that result in no net purchases from the electricity grid on an annual basis and produces enough electricity to  offset the energy use attributable to an onsite use of purchased natural gas.”


Of course, we would like to see this bill pass, and we would also like to see it extended to non-residential construction as well!  Critics argue the legislature should focus on refurbishing old construction, and they are correct to that extent.  However, there is no reason to only focus on old construction.  Contrary to the critics, we have full confidence the legislature can walk and chew gum at the same time.  The legislature must address both old and new construction!

We will track the progress of AB212, and report back regularly.  For the full text of AB 212, click here

Also, since we’re on the topic of legislation, remember AB 1920 sponsored by Assembly Member Jared Huffman?  That bill proposed elimination of  limits on net metering (among other things).  Well the bill has been re-introduced as AB 920 and is now in front of the Natural Resources Committee for a vote.  You can read more about the original bill from our previous posts ( click here) and (click here) and our Interview with Assembly Member Huffman (click here).  Our understanding is AB 920 is essentially the same as AB 1920.   Let’s hope AB 920 doesn’t get lost in politics as its predecessor did.


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