Quantalux Blog

News, events, observations, industrial and otherwise, from a Quantalux point-of-view.

A Michigan Smart Energy Code

There’s been a lot of discussion in the press lately about the Green New Deal. While we like some of the “big” ideas in the plan, there are many other smaller, less news-worthy ways improve sustainability. One way is for individual states to add a “future-proof” enhancement to the energy code for all new buildings in the state – a Smart Energy Code.

Why? There’s no question that today’s electrical vehicles and solar arrays will be joined by tomorrow’s battery storage and autonomous building management, and it only makes sense to have every new building ready to incorporate these new technologies. No one can predict with certainty the energy innovations that will arrive 20, 30, or even 50 years from now, but with good planning, buildings can, at a minimum, be ready with an adaptable energy infrastructure.

California’s Title 24 Building Energy Code offers an interesting model for energy-aware codes. Like many energy codes, Title 24 calls for more efficient lighting and more insulation, but also adds forward-thinking provisions like rules that assure the buildings can be retrofitted with solar panels. US vehicle producers should also like the rule that requires new homes are EV-ready by adding large current breakers into the circuit panel to charge their electric cars. [1]

But even Title 24 doesn’t fully address the biggest energy innovation on the horizon – on-site energy storage. Residential energy storage has been growing tenfold year-over-year since 2017, but virtually no homes are pre-fitted with the electrical infrastructure to take advantage of this innovation. While most building and electric codes give guidance on the installation of energy storage for innovations such as solar-ready homes [2], but there is no actual requirement for buildings to have the infrastructure in place for the seamless installation of energy storage.

Developers and builders will likely complain about the increased cost and complexity to “future-proof” a new building. And it’s true – upfront costs may be more.  But the smart customer calculates the life-cycle cost of a building, and energy efficiency pays. Plus, advance planning need not increase the cost of a building substantially. For example, the cost of over-sized wire and a few extra breaker slots in the electrical panel is far cheaper than installing a completely new panel when the owner buys a new electric vehicle or adds battery storage.

From a public policy perspective, smart buildings will need smart people to design and build them. This includes architects, engineers, contractors and skilled trades people. No question, many states desperately needs to train and retain their smart young people after college.  Worker retention is no joke: states like Michigan are surrounded by more progressive Midwestern states that are advancing clean energy agendas [3], and young workers are more than willing to move to Minnesota, Wisconsin or Colorado in search of work if Michigan lags behind.

This is the perfect time to gather stakeholders statewide and develop a plan for a Smart Energy Code. Existing building codes can be upgraded and harmonized with an eye towards future energy innovations, saving the owner money and stimulating demand for skilled jobs. The change might seem minor right now, but over the lifetime of a building, the benefit is large. There’s really no need to wait for Washington to hash out a Green New Deal.

[1] https://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/solar-mandate-all-new-california-homes#gs.2S3kkT6L

[2]  https://codes.iccsafe.org/content/iecc2018/appendix-ca-solar-ready-zone-commercial?site_type=public

[3] https://www.utilitydive.com/news/new-governors-accelerate-clean-energy-action-propelled-by-democratic-midte/547994/   

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