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New energy law may be big turnoff in Silicon Valley

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Major changes in California’s building codes will take effect on January 1st. What’s astonishing is that few people even know this is coming or fully understand the impact these new regulations will have, especially for companies in the tech industry.

Title 24 is California’s “catch all” body of building codes. Over the past five years, state regulators have revised these codes to require much higher energy efficiency standards. By all accounts, as of this January, California will have the strictest energy code in the country.

What this means for the average homeowner or company is that new construction must comply with higher energy efficiency standards. So this will only affect companies seeking to build new facilities for now, but as the pace of expansion in booming Silicon Valley picks up, that could have a major impact.

How big? Well, think about the average tech company today, with rows of cubicles, each one populated by a person and a computer. An employee goes to lunch, or to a meeting down the hall, and their computer stays on, ready to be used as soon as they get back to their desk. However, under the changes in Title 24, all of these computers must be plugged into what’s known as a “controlled outlet,” governed by motion sensors or an automatic timing device. After a period of inactivity – boom – the power gets shut down.

“We’re astonished to find how many in the industry are totally unaware of what’s going to hit them on January 1st,” says Ian Crayford, the chief technology officer for Smartbotics, a Los Gatos maker of a Bluetooth smart enabled LED lightbulb. Crayford’s company is one of a growing number who are developing technologies that will help firms manage power usage issues in the new Title 24 world. Smartbotics, for example, has technology that can assign priority settings for some of these mandatory automatic controls.

Another company in Silicon Valley – Cyber Switching – designs and builds power distribution units that monitor current and can provide virtual circuit breaker protection by outlet. With the rollout of Title 24 next year, it is expected that a number of companies will be seeking to capitalize on the need for sophisticated power management tools.

As a result of the new law, facilities managers will have to carefully inventory exactly what gets plugged into what for every square foot of newly developed space. And single family homeowners are not exempt either. Title 24 applies to new residential construction in 2014 and will gradually migrate to permits for remodeling work as well. So, if you live in California and decide to convert your garage to habitable space for your mother-in-law, you may find yourself having to completely change the electrical setup in your home. “I’m pretty convinced the tech industry and most homeowners are not ready for this,” says Crayford.

Another component of Title 24 involves what is commonly known as “daylight harvesting.” Again, in many Silicon Valley companies whose buildings are often bright, expansive spaces filled with light, offices near windows must have special controls in the light fixtures that will dim very low automatically during daylight hours to minimize energy usage. This will also apply to parking garages, which are usually built with “open air” levels that let in daylight as well.

The regulations governing Title 24 can be found at the California Energy Commission’s website. There is also a fairly comprehensive free slide presentation on the changes that can be downloaded from WattStopper.com.

Crayford and others contacted by this column are baffled by the lack of awareness surrounding such a significant change in the building code. Some firms who have developed energy management technologies are beginning to rollout roadshows that focus on the Title 24 changes, yet with the holiday season in full swing, the message gets lost among the eggnog and sleigh bells. But starting next month, after the law takes effect, the dawn of a new era in energy management will become reality for all.

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