In California, buildings consume more electricity than any other sector, but building owners have a lot of control over how much energy they use. The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) aims to promote the advantages of new technologies and financial incentives to ensure that all new commercial buildings built in the next 20 years produce as much as energy as they consume.

This week, the CPUC joined state business leaders to launch the Zero Net Energy Action Plan, a collaborative strategy designed to "transform the state's commercial buildings into clean energy powered, energy-efficient structures by 2030," said CPUC Commissioner Dian M. Grueneich.

"Zero net energy isn't just a big, bold goal - it's a reality today," she said. "By tapping into the innovation and entrepreneurialism that made California the largest builder of zero net energy buildings in the nation, this action plan will succeed."

Over of the course of a year, zero net energy (ZNE) buildings produce as much energy as they consume by using technologies such as solar, wind and other renewable energy resources. With numerous financial incentives available to building owners that implement green technology, California looks to keep leading the way when it comes to energy efficiency in commercial buildings.

About 5 billion square feet of commercial building space accounts for 38 percent of the state's power use and more than 25 percent of the state's natural gas consumption. California, which already has more ZNE commercial buildings than any other state, aims to bring in a series of codes and minimum standards to make sure new commercial buildings have "net zero" energy balance. In addition, the plan notes that up to half of existing commercial buildings would be retrofitted by 2030 with net zero upgrades.

Eleven months in the making, the action plan represents work of more than 150 stakeholders in commercial building, architecture, finance, clean energy, technology and various state agencies. The ZNE action plan represents one of the Big Bold Energy Efficiency Strategies (BBEES) in California's Long Term Energy Efficiency Strategic Plan -- released by the CPUC in 2008 -- a road map to conserve energy and natural gas. Altogether, the Strategic Plan's BBEES will save an estimated 2,056 megawatts, avoiding the need for four new 500-megawatt power plants.

The plan also highlights numerous success stories -- facilities that have helped advance and illustrate the net zero approach. For example, the Environmental Technology Center (ETC) in Rohnert Park, Calif., includes energy-efficient and water-efficient landscaping and "smart building" control technologies. Built with eco-friendly materials, the building also uses solar electric technology and electronic control systems.

"Designed to use only 20 percent of the energy allowed by state energy code for similar buildings," the plan notes, "ETC serves as a model of public-sector fiscal and environmental responsibility for California's universities and colleges."

Check out the ZNE Action Plan.