California’s First Zero Net Energy Community Opens on Earth Day to Support Bold State Goals

Say hello to your dream home and goodbye to rising electric bills. Meritage Homes, headquartered in Scottsdale, Arizona, will reveal California’s first and only Net Zero Community on this year’s Earth Day, April 22. The homebuilder has partnered with leading energy companies to develop a community called Sierra Crest with 20 zero net energy (ZNE) homes in North Fontana area.

Zero Net Energy Homes at Fontana, California. Credit: Meritage Homes.

Currently the energy used in homes and buildings is the second largest contributor to California’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. ZNE homes and buildings can help reduce the state’s energy demand and environmental impacts associated with homes and buildings, providing more resilience to climate impacts.

“There are several ZNE homes throughout California, but none clustered at one community,” commented CR Herro, Vice President of Environmental Affairs at Meritage Homes. “This community not only allows the value of operation cost reduction to the homeowners, but provides much needed data to the utilities about kW production and demand at each home, and cumulatively at the transformer level to provide needed data to design service for community level Zero Energy as California building code progresses toward this standard.”

Meritage Homes along with BIRAenergy, Itron and Southern California Edison (SCE) will work with the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) and California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to evaluate the energy use and grid integration of this new community and investigate economic feasibility to support California’s “big bold goal.”

In 2008, California set bold energy-use reduction goals — all new residential construction will be zero net energy by 2020 and commercial buildings by 2030. New homes and buildings will achieve ZNE first through high levels of energy efficiency, and then through the addition of clean, on-site renewable power generation, typically solar PV to meet 100 percent of their annual energy need.

The California Energy Commission (CEC) and CPUC define ZNE as “a general term applied to a building with a net energy consumption of zero over a typical year.”  To cope with fluctuations in demand, zero energy buildings are typically envisions as connected to the grid, exporting electricity to the grid when there is a surplus, and drawing electricity when not enough electricity is being produced. The amount of energy provided by on-site renewable energy sources is equal to the amount of energy used by the building. 

According to CEC, with the stringent Building Standards and ZNE requirements for new residential homes by 2020, the energy consumption in California is expected to flatten, out compared to the baseline forecast through 2040. As seen in the graph below, with energy savings from energy efficiency and on-site renewables, ZNE residential homes (red dotted line) alone could avoid 18,000 gegawatt hours of electricity by 2040.

From “California Residential and Commercial Building Energy Use Characteristics,” by California Energy Commission

The ZNE homes, which are currently in development in Sierra Crest Community, will include high-efficiency solar photovoltaic (PV), HVAC systems, water heating equipment, heat pumps and integrated fresh air ventilation. In addition, each will have spray foam insulation, highly insulated windows, energy-efficient lighting, smart chargers and smart appliances.

With these technologies, the ZHE homes are projected to curb energy use by as much as 60 percent compared to a house built to the latest California Energy Code.

One added energy efficiency bonus is its ability to downsize on-site solar capacity.  “In a conventional home, the size of PV, which is sufficient to make a home Zero Energy, can be between 7 kW and 10 kW.  Because of the included advanced energy efficiency, our ZNE homes can achieve Zero Energy with 3.5 to 4.5 kW,” commented Herro.

Starting in the high $300,000s, buyers can choose ZNE homes from two distinct collections and six floor plans, ranging from 1,936 to 2,915 square feet. According to Laura Caulk, Sales Associate at Meritage Homes, the first 6 ZNE homes out of 20 will be ready in this July.

To celebrate Earth Day, Meritage Homes is running two parallel promotions — the first is that the Zero Energy Package is available at no cost to new homebuyer for the twenty ZNE homes and a Zero Energy Package is available at a discounted rate throughout the community.

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