PG&E Classroom Practices What it Teaches: Zero Net Energy

By Jonathan Marshall

Following the wise adage to “practice what you preach,” PG&E has just started holding classes on state-of-the-art, energy-efficient building practices in a new “zero net energy” (ZNE) classroom located at the Stockton Energy Training Center.

Working with American Modular Systems, PG&E has just installed a state-of-the-art Zero Net Energy classroom in Stockton that showcases the very techniques its instructors preach about.

PG&E’s Stockton facility opened more than three decades ago to train PG&E employees and independent professionals on how to conduct energy audits. Today it offers about 450 classes every year to more than 12,000 students, mostly architects, builders and energy tradespeople. The classes cover everything from water heater safety to techniques for installing insulation.

As part of its mission, the center now graduates more than 500 students a year from its special ZNE program, one of the largest of its kind in the state, if not the country. PG&E’s instructors lead a series of high-powered, one-day classes which focus on integrated design and building techniques that, in combination, can slash energy usage to the point where on-site renewable generation can handle the facility’s total net energy needs.

Working with American Modular Systems (AMS), PG&E has just installed a state-of-the-art ZNE classroom that showcases the very techniques its instructors preach about. Thanks to an ultra-tight building envelope, highly effective insulation, low-emissivity windows, natural ventilation, and automatic lighting and climate controls, it exceeds the state’s Title 24 energy efficiency standards by about 50 percent. It also generates as much energy as it consumes annually thanks to roof-mounted solar photovoltaic panels.

The 24-by-40-foot building includes an energy consumption meter to show in real time the balance of energy produced versus consumed. It also includes special cut-aways to demonstrate construction techniques, and an accessible HVAC system for student inspection. Its rooftop solar panels generate up to 3.6 kilowatts of power on a sunny day.

Solar panels, automatic controls and other features ensure energy efficiency.

PG&E’s training programs, and its new model classroom, support California’s long-term goal of making all new residential construction meet ZNE standards by 2020, followed by commercial buildings in 2030. PG&E also supported creation of the nation’s largest ZNE community, the West Village project in Davis, and has sponsored two major ZNE design competitions with the San Francisco-based American Institute for Architecture.

“We are focusing on increasing public awareness of cutting-edge technologies and programs that can help our customers,” said Gary Girardi, supervisor of the Energy Training Center. “It is our mission to train market professionals who are able to carry those messages of energy efficiency to a broader base than we can reach on a one-to-one basis. ZNE helps us do that by tying solar applications and building systems applications a whole. It epitomizes everything we’ve been trying to do. And this classroom puts every aspect of the technology on display.”

The Manteca-based AMS has built ZNE and other sustainable classrooms for school districts throughout California. The classroom was built off-site at the AMS factory.

PG&E will be showing off the sustainable classroom to reporters on Thursday.

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"PG&E" refers to Pacific Gas and Electric Company, a subsidiary of PG&E Corporation.
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