Innovation in energy and climate policy for buildings

March 5, 2021 | Jim Meyers

After months of meetings, emails, articles, and hours of testimony and concerns voiced about the validity of a new concept, the International Code Council (ICC) Board has decided to move the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) from the ICC code development process to the ICC standards development process.  

The concern with moving to the standards development process was the potential for the IECC to roll back progress made on efficiency, which would undermine states’ and municipal governments’ efforts to reach their environmental and climate goals.

Given those concerns, yesterday’s decision was not the path many clean building proponents would have chosen. But now that the ICC has spoken, it’s time for us to look forward. Fortunately, there are some positive elements in the ICC’s adopted process that we can all work with.

A quick review of their “Advancing Energy Efficiency” infographic looks promising for the IECC to support zero goals. They start with no rollbacks in efficiency. I think we can call that a win, and I think most states and municipalities would agree. Zero energy compliance pathways will also be required. The details are not yet known, but this looks promising for energy efficiency.

A zero energy building pathway by 2030 would be a significant victory! It aligns with many state and city goals and greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction measures, including renewables, storage, and electric vehicle charging and electrification. With all of these efforts, the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project (SWEEP) and many other organizations are striving to support a zero energy future for the building sector.

Additionally, it appears the ICC and United States Department of Energy (DOE) have been discussing the pathway prior to the ICC news release as DOE’s cost effectiveness analysis “can be requested and ‘completed’ pre-publication.” This is a win for the building industry as these cost effectiveness analyses have typically been published long after the release of the IECC.

Many of you who know me have heard me talk about the differences between the ICC process and ASHRAE’s process, where the ASHRAE Board has provided direction for increased energy efficiency in the 90.1 Standard (and 90.2 Standard). The ICC governmental process has not allowed the Board to direct a path for the IECC and rollbacks have been possible as we have seen some industry attempts to turn back code proposals every code cycle (equipment efficiency) that was approved in the 2009 IECC.

The intent section of the IECC is changing, and it looks like it’s for the positive. The new intent will include “supplemental requirements, including requirements that lead to achievement of zero energy buildings, presently, and, through glidepaths that achieve zero energy buildings by 2030 and on additional timelines sought by governments.”  

The intent goes further to allow the Board and a new Energy and Carbon Advisory Council to include additional policy goals such as additional energy efficiency, GHG reductions, and future objectives that have not specifically been addressed in the current intent within the 2021 IECC.

Questions remain about the ability of governmental representatives to participate in a longer-term standards development process — a non-stop process of continuous maintenance — unlike the current governmental process which occurs every three years.  

How can SWEEP and other organizations participate in the new process? Follow the ICC website to learn how you can apply for the IECC committee and the Energy and Carbon Advisory Council. With the creation of the new advisory council, it’s unknown how it will be staffed and if applications will be accepted.

We also need to keep ICC’s feet to the fire with their new framework for energy and sustainability. Zero energy pathways, no efficiency rollbacks, the ICC Board’s support to advance greenhouse gas reductions, governmental regulators’ participation on the standards committee, and all that the framework lays out must happen for the governmental membership to have faith the new process will be acceptable for the energy code going forward.

This outcome is not what many state, local and efficiency advocates were hoping for, but with change there is always new opportunities. This might just be the opening to move an IECC to zero energy sooner than might have happened under the previous process.

Information on the new changes can be found on the ICC website in an executive summary, their full framework, and an infographic summarizing the details.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jim Meyers is the Buildings Program Director for SWEEP, where he works on building energy code advancements. Jim is responsible for conducting analysis, preparing case studies, evaluating new and emerging technologies for buildings, and promoting the adoption of state-of-the-art building energy codes.