How California can unlock healthier & more resilient homes in 2024
In California, there are almost 15 million homes and around 8 billion square feet of commercial space, making up roughly 10% and 8% of the national total, respectively. Most of this building stock is powered by appliances that run on fossil fuels. These appliances generate about a quarter of the state’s total climate emissions, making them the second highest polluter in the state of California after the transportation sector. These emissions exacerbate climate change and extreme weather, pollute indoor and outdoor air, and harm public health.
For the Golden State, building decarbonization is key to tackling emissions and unlocking healthier and more resilient homes in 2024 and beyond. To achieve this, California Governor Newsom and policymakers must pass policies for heat pumps, adopt statewide appliance standards, and consistently fund building decarbonization programs if we hope to equitably transition California households to zero-emission appliances and clean energy. Failing to address building emissions puts California at risk of falling short of achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2045.
In 2022, Governor Newsom set an ambitious goal of creating 3 million climate-ready homes equipped with heat pumps by 2030, and 7 million by 2035. This goal includes a target of deploying 6 million heat pumps by 2030. But, to date, there are only 1.5 million heat pumps installed in about 800,000 homes. To achieve this goal, California would need to install 4.5 million heat pumps, or around 750,000 heat pumps every year until 2030. And the state would need to create more than half a million climate-ready homes each year to reach the 7 million target in 2035.
However, California is currently on pace to install less than 200,000 heat pumps a year, at the annual rate of about 80,000 heat pumps installed in existing homes and assuming all of the 110,000 newly constructed homes each year are outfitted with heat pumps. Creating additional challenges, the Governor’s proposed budget cuts to the Equitable Building Decarbonization program and the California Public Utility Commission’s recent rejection of the largest utility-initiated building electrification program in the state could further slow the pace of heat pump adoption across the state. Yet, California’s heat pump and climate-ready homes goal is achievable–if we pick up the pace.
How can California make 2024 a winning year for cleaner and healthier homes, while also fighting the worst impacts of pollution and climate change?
Restore Funding for the Equitable Building Decarbonization Program
All Californians deserve to live and work in a healthy environment, regardless of income or class. Governor Newsom and policymakers should restore funding to the Equitable Building Decarbonization Program, which would provide low-income households with zero-emission heat pumps, relieving them of the upfront costs of modern appliances and installation.
Heat pumps can provide urgently-needed cooling to the roughly 25% of California homes that lack it—meeting a critical gap in climate-resilience that is especially pressing as temperatures are expected to rise even more before the end of the decade. Zero-emission appliances can also improve air quality for the 99% of the disadvantaged communities who are disproportionately impacted by severe pollution and negative health impacts.
Pass Building Decarbonization Policies
The Legislature must pass policies this year to speed the state’s transition to clean energy. AB 593 would require the state to develop its first comprehensive plan to cut pollution in the building sector by aligning state agencies, programs, and funding. The plan would maximize benefits for workers, communities, and new industries with equity. Upgrading California’s building stock could support more than 100,000 full-time jobs in the construction industry and up to 4,900 full-time manufacturing jobs. This policy would also create market certainty for climate-friendly, zero-emission homes and buildings, spurring key players from traditional manufacturers to tech start-ups to make decarbonizing homes and buildings simpler and more cost-effective.
Policy advancing Neighborhood Scale Building Decarbonization would also accelerate the transition by upgrading entire neighborhoods, including homes, small businesses, and community buildings at once. This wide-reaching approach is critical alongside the “house-by-house” approach, and piloting programs that model neighborhood-scale building decarbonization would create tens of thousands of zero-emission, climate-ready homes. Scaling this solution beyond the pilots would greatly speed building decarbonization in the state.
Approve Statewide Energy Efficiency Standards
California leaders can approve the draft 2025 Energy Standards that can drive heat pump adoption in new and existing buildings. First, making heat pumps the baseline for energy efficiency in buildings can ensure that new homes are equipped with zero-emission appliances, and existing building retrofits are upgraded to heat pumps when air conditioner (AC) units are replaced. This means that most of the 110,000 new housing units built each year in the state could be zero-emission starting in 2026.
Second, approving a standard to replace burnt out AC units with heat pumps can provide zero-emission cooling while helping to offset fossil fuel use for heating even if the furnace remains as backup heat. Extreme heat is increasing in the state and the need for comfort cooling is driving the sale of new ACs with furnaces. If every California homeowner shopping for a new AC unit chose an air source heat pump, the state could increase heat pump sales from 6% of the market to 51% of the market by 2030 and eliminate the need for separate heating systems in the process.
Upgrading existing homes with highly-efficient heat pump cooling systems for water and space heating can also save families on energy costs. This is especially important as Californians are struggling with rising energy prices.
To build on rather than detract from the state’s previous wins in the building sector, California leaders have to make real progress in 2024. Restoring funding for the Equitable Building Decarbonization program, passing AB 593 and a neighborhood-scale decarbonization policy, and approving statewide energy efficiency standards are critical to advancing the Golden State’s ambitious clean energy goals and ensuring that Californians have healthier and more resilient homes.