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Advanced Energy Communities

Advanced Energy Communities

ZNE Alliance has engaged diverse cities and best-in-class solution providers to develop and scale Advanced Energy Communities. Advanced Energy Communities have set ambitious goals for local clean energy development, EV deployment, and building efficiency. These initiatives lead progressively to 100% renewable energy and near-zero GHG emissions. The AEC framework is also designed to grow jobs and the economy – while advancing public health, environmental sustainability, and social equity.


The Alliance partners with state and local government, business and community leaders, and local energy providers to design, finance, and build out Advanced Energy Communities. Each AEC master plan is custom-designed to harness the unique strengths of local partners. Common project components typically include:

  • Zero Net Carbon (ZNC) Community Vision

  • Distributed Energy Resource Network Development

    • Solar

    • Energy Storage

    • Microgrids

    • Virtual Power Plants

    • DER Management Systems

  • ZNE Building and Efficiency Programs and Policies

  • EV Charging Infrastructure

  • EV Fleet Initiatives

  • EV-friendly Policies


Lancaster Advanced Energy (AEC) Project

In 2011, the City of Lancaster set a goal to become the first Zero Net Energy (ZNE) City in America – generating or procuring from 100% renewable sources as much energy as the City consumes. In 2016, the City partnered with the ZNE Alliance to accelerate progress to its 100% renewable goal, and to advance other ambitious climate and sustainability targets. The City will achieve its 100% renewable goal in 2019.


The Alliance is currently working with the City to develop and deploy:

  • A Virtual Power Plant that integrates a total of 5 MW of solar and 10 MWH of storage, that lowers procurement costs for Lancaster Choice Energy (the local Community Choice Energy provider)

  • Multiple Community Microgrids that provide emergency shelter and safeguard essential services, powered by renewable microgrids

  • Flexible building and EV loads

  • Affordable ZNE housing subdivisions, including

    • Innovative microgrids to provide renewable backup power

    • Custom Rate Design

  • Energy storage at commercial sites in an innovative partnership with Lancaster Choice Energy

  • Innovative energy data management and rate design



Project Partners: 

Key project partners include: the City of Lancaster and Lancaster Choice Energy (Community Choice Energy provider), Energy Solutions (ZNE residential microgrids), Ecoshift Consulting (a division of Blue Strike Environmental), TRC, Gridscape and Solutions. 


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Utility Partnership and the ZNE Solutions Pyramid: 

The Lancaster AEC Project is creating a replicable model for Zero Net Carbon community energy system development, in close partnership with Lancaster Choice Energy (LCE). The Project team is working with LCE to deploy a comprehensive suite of ZNE solutions that include advanced data systems, innovative rate designs, and integrated DER and demand-side management programs that will lower costs for LCE and its customers.


The focus of the LCE initiatives is not just to achieve 100% renewable power, but to model optimally efficient load management and reduced cost.  This is being accomplished by helping customers shift load to lower-cost times of day with targeted deployment of customer-sited storage and smart devices – including smart thermostats, smart solar inverters, and smart EV charging stations. These technologies and strategies will help Lancaster manage its abundant solar resources -- and develop replicable models for managing a 100% renewable local utility.


The strategies developed in Lancaster will in turn be scaled through the California Choice Energy Authority – which is currently expanding to serve communities throughout the Los Angeles metro region. 


The Richmond Advanced Energy Community Project:


The Issue: The City of Richmond faces serious economic and environmental challenges, including emissions from the largest refinery on the west coast. Fully 50% of the City’s population live in areas ranking in the 76th percentile or higher on the CalEnviroScreen 3.0 benchmark. The City reports that one-fifth of its residents live in poverty (double the poverty rate of Contra Costa County), and 37% of Richmond households are enrolled in PG&E’s discounted California Alternative Rates for Energy (CARE) program (vs. the statewide average of 25%). Despite having good transit connectivity to the regional job market, Richmond continues to be burdened by the legacy of hundreds of blighted homes left abandoned following the 2008 recession.


In the face of these challenges, Richmond has made bold steps to increase its economic vitality while reducing emissions. In accordance with its Climate Action Plan, the city is adopting multiple progressive local building codes, and steadily greening its built environment.

Project Description: The Richmond Advanced Energy Community Phase II (AEC-P2) project demonstrates two breakthrough models that will advance state and local goals for energy and carbon savings, while maximizing benefits to the local community, the grid, and low-income residents in greatest need. These are: (1) a MCE Virtual Power Plant (VPP) program that optimizes economic and resilience value at the community and grid level, while directing new revenues and societal benefits to low-income residents in California’s Disadvantaged Communities (DACs); and (2) a Zero Net Carbon Ready (ZNCR) Homes program to finance the rehabilitation of blighted homes to ZNCR status and their re-sale as affordable infill properties using capital provided by Social Impact Bonds. These programs will be supported by an AEC Solutions Toolkit and an AEC Finance Toolkit designed to help scale these solutions for the state.

The VPP reduces costs, improves resiliency, and delivers additional benefits by helping commercial, municipal, and low-income residential customers adopt diverse resources, which can be flexibly managed in collaboration with MCE (the local Community Choice Energy provider) and the California Independent System Operator (CAISO). VPP assets include energy storage, smart thermostats, solar PV, EV chargers, and load shifting enabled by building energy management systems, HVAC controls, and other resources.


The VPP creates value for customers and the community by shifting load to reduce energy costs, enabling participation in utility programs such as demand response (DR), by increasing local economic development, by reducing emissions, and enhancing local energy resilience.

The ZNCR Homes program will leverage the Social Impact Bond to finance several ZNCR demonstration projects in partnership with the Richmond Community Foundation and MCE. The ZNCR Program will implement six diverse ZNCR packages in both limited retrofit and major renovation scenarios for up to 100 Residential Projects. For all ZNCR demonstrations, the team will seek to (1) understand the perceptions and education needs of both homeowners and market actors (manufacturers, distributors, contractors, finance providers, etc.), and (2) monitor and verify ZNCR home system performance, including related air quality, energy use, and other metrics.

Anticipated Benefits for California:

Increased Grid Reliability – The project will: 1) Increase deployment of energy storage, solar, and integrated DERs in alignment with local energy management plans; 2) Support capacity and relieve grid congestion; 3) Provide load reduction and demand-side management (DSM) through implementation of VPP  measures and ZNCR programs, 4) Increase efficiency through envelope measures (e.g. enhanced home insulation and solar) coupled with high performance equipment and appliances in single family, multi-family, and commercial buildings; and 5) provide valuable grid and load serving entity services such as flexible ramping, and peak shifting.

Lower Costs – The project will:

  1. Create replicable models to facilitate market uptake of cost-efficient DERs

  2. Reduce customer costs via installation of high efficiency and all-electric appliances

  3. Enable ratepayers to participate in Demand Response and emerging VPP programs

  4. Provide customers with the ability to mitigate demand charges during high price periods

  5. Provide load shaping to mitigate the need for future peaker plants and other non-renewable generation

  6. Address congestion and other urgent conditions that cause price spikes for ratepayers

  7. Integrate EV charging stations into the VPP

Increased Safety – Safety will be improved by:

  1. Identifying hazards and ventilation defects during energy assessments

  2. Ensuring that builders follow code-compliant manufacturers’ installation guidelines

  3. Ensuring that indoor air quality satisfies code requirements

Social Impact Bond and ZNE Housing Development

In the years since the 2008 economic crash, which was particularly severe in Richmond, hundreds of properties have remained vacant and distressed. These properties attract crime and act as a persistent drag on the City’s well-being. Beginning in 2015, the Richmond City Council took bold action to address this challenge by issuing a $3 million dollar Social Impact Bond[1] for the purpose of rehabilitating these abandoned residential properties. The Social Impact Bond is an innovative financial instrument between a public agency and a private investor which promises improved social outcomes that result in public sector savings or benefits. In Richmond, the Social Impact Bond is a partnership between the City, the nonprofit Richmond Community Foundation (RCF), and Mechanics Bank, which purchased the bond. Bond proceeds are loaned by the City to enable the Foundation to acquire and rehabilitate abandoned and distressed properties. The Social Impact Bond is paid solely from the proceeds generated from resale of the homes, with no liability for repayment on the City’s part.


These abandoned homes often require protracted legal work to clear their titles, and extensive rebuilding, and thus have not been attractive to developers or urban homesteaders. With the additional support provide by the Social Impact Bond, however, home titles are being cleared and development teams assembled to rebuid these homes in a cost-efficient manner, re-market them at affordable prices, and fully repay the Social Impact Bond. Through the combined efforts of the City, the Richmond Community Foundation, and the extended ZNE Alliance team, including Energy Solutions, we are proceeding toward a goal of restoring 40 houses in disadvantaged census tracts over five years. The program will be further expanded as the rehabilitated housing is sold.


Each of the homes in the program will be restored to a Zero Net Carbon Ready standard, including onsite solar, EV charging, and all-electric, water-saving design. The lower operating costs of the ZNC homes helps enable long-term ownership and wealth-building for the buyers. Affordability is further enhanced as residents enjoy nearby access to BART and AC Transit bus lines, reducing requirements for vehicle use. Priority for purchase of these affordable homes is provided to participants of a leading first-time home buyers program for Contra Costa County residents, known as SparkPoint.


The Social Impact Bond is the first-of-its-kind deployment of this innovative policy tool to revitalize abandoned and blighted homes, and the first major project in California targeting distressed homes for ZNE renovations.


Contact us for more information about how your city can participate in the Advanced Energy Community and ZNE City movement!


[1] Social Impact Bonds were first deployed in 2010, and have been deployed in 15 countries, raising more than $200M in investment to address social challenges. For more information, see Social Impact Bonds: The Early Years.

Social Impact Bond

Richmond Advanced Energy Community Project Partners -- led by the Richmond Community Foundation, ZNE Alliance, the City of Richmond, Energy Solutions, and Mechanics Bank -- celebrate the construction of a Zero Net Energy Home

Richmond Project Partners
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Awards: ZNE Alliance is the only organization in the state to seek and win two of the highly competitive Advanced Energy Community awards, scoring #1 in the Northern California disadvantaged community category with Richmond as our partner, and #2 in the Southern California non-disadvantaged category in partnership with the City of Lancaster.

Funding: Together, the two AEC initiatives won nearly $3 million in Phase One of the program, and will be eligible for more than $10 million in additional funding as the project transitions from planning and permitting (Phase 1 / 2016-17) to full implementation (Phase 2 / 2018-2025). 

Partnership Opportunity:  The Advanced Energy Communities are the first wave of ZNE city initiatives that the Alliance will be sponsoring throughout California and beyond in the coming years. If your community is interested in become a ZNE Alliance City, contact us at or call 415 310-2407.

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