Texas can reduce its dependence on dirty, dangerous and expensive fossil fuels by adopting new, high performance home designs. Using energy-efficient technology and small-scale solar energy systems, homes can be built to generate as much energy as they use, achieving “net-zero energy” performance.
Given anticipated population growth, Texas will likely build nearly 2.2 million additional single-family homes from 2010 to 2030. These homes represent an enormous energy opportunity. If all new homes are built for net-zero energy performance by 2020, then by 2030 the state would avoid the need to build seven new large power plants, reduce annual global warming pollution by an amount equivalent to eliminating emissions from more than 3 million Texas cars and trucks, and reduce homeowners’ energy bills by more than $5 billion – benefiting all Texans. With incentive programs available now, a net-zero energy home could cost about $40 per month less to own than a standard home. In the future, potential homeowner savings are poised to grow.
The technology necessary to build net-zero energy homes is ready and available today. However, it is not yet in widespread use, because of a variety of market barriers, including lack of familiarity and up-front cost. To unlock the potential of high-performance homes, Texas and federal officials should work to overcome these market barriers and encourage the spread of efficient home designs and small-scale renewable energy technologies such as solar energy systems.
Net-zero energy homes can help Texas become less dependent on fossil fuels.
- If all new single-family homes in Texas achieved net-zero energy performance by the year 2020, Texas would save more than 15 billion kWh of electricity per year by 2030. At current consumption patterns, that amount of electricity could power all the residences in the greater metropolitan areas of San Antonio, Austin, and Corpus Christi combined (or 1.1 million Texas homes).
- At the same time, solar energy systems on those homes would generate another 10 billion kWh of electricity per year by 2030 – equivalent to nearly 3 percent of current statewide annual electricity consumption.
- In total, these homes would generate or save more than 25 billion kWh of electricity per year and 500 million therms of natural gas per year by 2030. That amount of electrical energy would eliminate the need to build 7 large (500 MW) coal-fired power plants, and that amount of gas could meet the annual needs of more than 1 million Texas homes.
Net-zero energy homes prevent pollution, protecting public health and Texas’ environment.
- By displacing fossil fuels, in the year 2030 net-zero energy homes could annually prevent 18 million metric tons of global warming pollution, 7.5 million pounds of smog-forming nitrogen oxide emissions, and nearly 400 pounds of highly toxic mercury pollution.
- In terms of global warming pollution, this impact would be roughly equivalent to making one out of every six cars and trucks in the state pollution-free (more than 3 million vehicles).
- In addition, deploying net-zero energy homes could save nearly 10 billion gallons of water in 2030, water which would otherwise be used to generate steam in fossil-fired power plants. That much water could meet the domestic needs of a city of more than 400,000 people.
Net- zero energy homes can save society and individual homeowners money.
- Net-zero energy homes deliver many benefits which save all Texans money. Net-zero energy homes reduce the need for expensive power lines and peaking power plants to meet peak demand for electricity. They reduce demand for – and thus the price of – electricity and natural gas. And net-zero energy homes prevent air pollution, reducing costs to public health and Texas’ environment.
- To compensate builders and buyers of net-zero energy home technology for providing these benefits to society as a whole, federal and state government offers a variety of incentives and rebates to reduce the initial purchase price of a net-zero energy home. With currently available incentives, a net-zero energy home would save a homeowner $40 per month in total home ownership costs compared to a standard home.
- Because net-zero energy homes generate as much energy as they consume, they can greatly reduce monthly utility bills. For example, a Houston-area homeowner would pay $2,400 less per year for utility service in a net-zero energy home compared to a standard home. Savings on energy bills offset the initial price premium of a net-zero energy home of about $10 per square foot (after incentives).
- The potential for net-zero energy homes to deliver homeowner savings will grow over time. For example, by 2015, analysts at the U.S. Department of Energy predict that the installed cost of solar PV will decline by 50 percent. When this milestone is achieved, a net-zero energy home will cost the same amount per month as a standard home, without incentives.
- If all new homes in Texas achieved net-zero energy performance by 2020, Texas homeowners would save an estimated $5.4 billion on utility bills in the year 2030. Over the entire 20 year period of analysis, net total home ownership savings would be in the range of $1.1 billion (2009 dollars).
Incorporating energy-efficient features during construction can allow homes to use two-thirds less energy than a typical home. For example:
- Improved insulation, tight construction, high-efficiency windows, and light colored “cool roofs” can drastically improve the thermal efficiency of a home and enable the use of smaller cooling and heating equipment. Together, these measures can cut the energy needed for cooling and heating by more than 75 percent.
- Efficient lighting and appliances can deliver the same convenience and comfort that homeowners are used to while using far less electricity. For example, using compact fluorescent or LED bulbs in place of traditional incandescent versions can reduce lighting energy use by more than 70 percent. Similarly, efficient clothes washers, dishwashers, dryers and refrigerators can cut electricity use by more than 50 percent compared to standard versions.
Solar energy systems can generate electricity and hot water to offset the remaining home energy use.
- A 5 kW home solar photovoltaic system could produce 5,800 kWh per year in a hot and humid location near the Gulf, such as Houston, and up to 7,000 kWh per year in a hot and dry climate like that of Midland or Odessa. In comparison, an energy-efficient home uses about 5,000 kWh of electricity per year.
- An efficient hot water heater, supplemented by a roof-mounted solar hot water system, could cut the amount of natural gas needed to supply hot water for a typical home by about two-thirds.
- Other sources of renewable energy can deliver cooling, heating and electricity for Texas homes, including geothermal heat pumps and small-scale wind turbines.
Net-zero energy homes will be a key tool for breaking our dependence on fossil fuels. Texas, and the United States as a whole, should encourage energy-efficient home construction and the use of solar energy systems.
- President Obama has announced an ambitious but achievable goal for all new buildings to achieve net-zero energy performance by 2030. Texas should embrace this goal and lay out a plan to achieve this benchmark for new homes by 2020.
- As a first step, Texas should require local jurisdictions to strengthen building energy codes, ensuring that all new homes across the state meet or exceed the 2009 International Energy Conservation Code.
- Texas should provide financial incentives and technical assistance to encourage high performance new construction and the deployment of solar energy systems. For example:
- Texas should establish a statewide solar rebate program so that all Texans are able to take advantage of solar incentives.
- Cities should help residents install solar energy systems by offering loans that can be paid back via property taxes, as authorized by House Bill 1937.
- Texas should require true “net metering,” removing limits on the ability of homeowners to be fairly compensated by their utility for any excess electricity they feed into the power grid.
- Texas utilities should add to and expand incentive programs to encourage the construction of net-zero energy homes.
Energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies can benefit all sectors of the Texas economy. To fully capture these resources,
- Texas should require electric utilities to increase their investment in energy efficiency programs, such as rebates for Energy Star homes, such that 1 percent of the state’s electricity consumption is offset with efficiency annually by 2015 and 2 percent annually by 2020 and thereafter.
- Federal leaders should adopt national energy efficiency and renewable energy requirements, including:
- A national energy efficiency resource standard, requiring that utilities reduce electricity consumption by at least 10 percent by 2020;
- Enforceable national lighting and building energy efficiency codes for new residential and commercial buildings, requiring a 50 percent reduction over current practice by 2015 and a 75 percent reduction in energy use by 2030; and
- A building retrofit program, to ensure existing buildings use energy efficiently.