CEC Next EPIC Challenge

Katie Ackerly, AIA
March 2024
Exterior rendering with icons showing grid mode, battery conserve mode and outage mode.
Image Credit
David Baker Architects

DBA was proud to be on one of 12 teams in California exploring a zero-carbon solution for new construction affordable housing under a design challenge funded by the California Energy Commission. Along with a team including First Community Housing, Association for Energy Affordability, RMI, Center for the Built Environment, Taylor Engineering, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Roberts Obayashi construction and KPFF Structural Engineers, our research aimed to determine a practical, scalable approach to zero-carbon housing. To meet the challenge set forth by the Energy Commission, the building must deploy on-site renewables and storage sufficient to meet loads during the peak 4-9 pm period, to island from the grid during a power outage, and to perform critical demand response.  

The proposed project at 995 E Santa Clara Ave is a 6-story, 71,000 ft² building on a 0.42-acre site in San Jose’s Roosevelt Park neighborhood, a disadvantaged community with strong access to open space, transit, and amenities. Our zero-emissions approach was to integrate technologies and approaches with demonstrated potential, and optimized the design around financial, resilience, health and other benefits of decarbonization that accrue first to the residents and communities served by the project.

To meet the challenge, our solution maximized solar PV and prioritized the use of thermal storage for load management, and then examined the breakthrough potential of a whole-building smart microgrid control and management system. The study went a step further to then explore the structural and envelope strategies that have potential to both streamline construction and reduce emissions for a mid-rise building. A key outcome of the design exercise was to document the most cost-effective and beneficial pathway to an emissions-free dense urban housing project in a way that is easy for developers and industry peers to understand.