"Net Zero Emission" Energy Retrofits: A Critical Policy Issue to Solve Posted on Sep 24, 2021
One thing most experts in the cleantech industry agree on is that it is cheaper to build “net zero emission” buildings from scratch than to retrofit existing buildings to become net zero emitters. Although perhaps not invariably true across the U.S., those industry experts with “boots on the ground” knowledge amongst our network all agree that the retrofit market has yet to crack the code on aligning climate policy goals, existing retrofit technologies, building codes and consumer pocketbooks.
This is not stopping homeowners and businesses from retrofitting aging buildings; but, it is slowing down the cleantech retrofit market and pushing a large section of it into the “shadows” – meaning, people are cobbling together systems that work uniquely for their situation, but are not necessary optimized or up to the newest and best practices or codes. The recent availability of technologies for islandable, distributed “mini solar microgrids” (e.g., small solar-storage microgrids capable of operating independent of the grid), electric appliances and EVs when combined is the holy grail for people and businesses seeking energy resilience and economic independence.
However, the high cost of retrofitting buildings to become “net zero emission” is driving a hidden cleantech retrofit market. These high retrofit costs are a result of the much higher prices of low-emission technologies compared to high emission ones and the significant costs to upgrade electrical panels and infrastructure of existing properties. The prevalence of unpermitted structures on existing properties that provide ideal mounting places for solar helps offset some of these costs and pursuing “unpermitted” onsite solar and storage installations decreases installation costs. As a result, property owners and contractors are working in the “shadows” in unknown, but by many accounts significant, numbers. The reason for the willingness of otherwise reputable, law-abiding citizens to take on this type of legal risk is evident when considering their underlying motivations. For instance, who can fault property owners motivated by instinctual drives to protect their families, homes and businesses from fires, climate-related catastrophes, utility power shutoffs, negligence and grid outages while saving hundreds of thousands of dollars they would otherwise pay a local utility or CCA? And, at the same time these property are becoming net zero emissions helping to address climate change. All honorable goals that anyone would support.