Equitable Building Decarbonization: Implementation Approaches
Building decarbonization is a core strategy for reducing emissions to achieve California’s long-term climate goals and to meet air quality standards. Since the electricity grid is increasingly powered by renewable and zero-carbon sources, accelerated building electrification can play a pivotal role in achieving climate and air quality targets while providing important public health benefits. A successful building decarbonization transition must be an equitable one. This requires policy design that is responsive to the concerns, needs, and conditions of frontline communities.
California state, regional, and local governments are advancing policies to support equitable decarbonization. However, despite this growing attention to equity, gaps in knowledge, practice, funding, and capacity still limit widespread equitable decarbonization among regions and across varied building subsectors, tenure types, fuel sources, workforce contexts, climatic conditions, and more. Strong implementation models are essential for addressing varied underlying needs, barriers, and risks.
To build more holistic statewide building decarbonization policy and programmatic approaches, the objectives of this implementation-focused project are to (1) provide insight into effective program design and governance models, (2) contribute to building local-level capacity for equitable building decarbonization, and (3) collect more detailed information about actual implementation needs, costs, and outcomes.
CARB works on building decarbonization in several forums. The 2022 State Strategy for the State Implementation Plan (SIP) for attaining federal air quality standards includes a proposed zero-emission standard for space and water heaters. In its role offering climate and air quality expert guidance for California’s Green Building Standards code (CALGreen), CARB has advocated for advancing measures that reduce emissions in newly constructed buildings. The Draft 2022 Scoping Plan Update quantifies the emission reductions needed in the building sector to achieve climate neutrality and suggests potential actions that would support a successful and equitable transition to decarbonized buildings. Additionally, CARB is sponsoring building decarbonization research in order to inform our buildings-related work and has completed solicitations and selection for two building decarbonization research projects, which take a statewide view of decarbonization potential, needs, costs, and benefits.
In parallel, the California Public Utilities Commission, California Energy Commission (CEC), and the Strategic Growth Council lead several critical proceedings, program administration, pilot programs, and research efforts, including the Technology and Equipment for Clean Heating (TECH) program, Building Initiative for Low-Emissions Development (BUILD) program, Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities (AHSC), Transformative Climate Communities (TCC), and research on health impacts of stoves for children with asthma.
California has a robust yet uneven landscape of community-based and nonprofit program implementation leaders who have expertise related to specific regional contexts or programs. Public agencies and market actors – including utilities, developers, manufacturers, building owners, and appliance retailers – grapple with several interlocking challenges: offering suitable and sufficient incentives, financing, and loan products; ensuring workforce readiness; designing energy rate structures, ensuring grid readiness for higher electricity demand; monitoring and supporting manufacturing supply chains; improving building energy efficiency and load flexibility to keep energy costs down; and informing retailers, consumers, buildings professionals, and other key actors. These dimensions further interact with individual, family, household, and community perspectives, priorities, awareness, and readiness to participate in a series of extensive changes to homes, schools, businesses, and the energy system. Even when households are offered no-upfront cost opportunities to decarbonize, they may remain hesitant or skeptical to participate.
To meaningfully address this complex implementation landscape, applied research is critical to gain a more detailed understanding of community needs, responses, impacts, and outcomes, to aid future statewide policy and program design. This project is intended to synthesize and build upon these learnings from within, and other relevant work outside of, California to help design and implement more equitable approaches to building decarbonization. Applicants must develop a plan to directly address and incorporate information related to outcomes from existing electrification policy and program initiatives to build a detailed and focused research pre-proposal.
This project will develop a focused study of at least two of the listed project dimensions, documenting and critically analyzing implementation practices to inform program design and policy development. Additionally, this project will address current limitations of cost-benefit modeling used for policy design for equitable energy programs. This could include exploring approaches to incorporate one or more hard-to-quantify social cost or benefits of decarbonization (for example, health, comfort, resilience, etc.) into cost modeling practice, or taking a broader view by critically developing or reviewing alternative approaches to equity-oriented policy analysis.
- Healthy whole-home decarbonization retrofit programs, including replacement of polluting and/or inefficient appliances with efficient, zero-emission technologies, weatherization, safety and habitability upgrades (especially in unsubsidized affordable housing), and installation of on-site energy generation and energy storage.
- Outreach, education, and community organizing models to increase awareness of, access to, and willingness of low-income households to participate in decarbonization initiatives.
- Public sector building focused implementation, its potential to diffuse to residential and commercial sector contexts, and equity-related lessons.
- Program design, governance, and implementation models for holistic decarbonization.
- Renter-focused decarbonization policy design and implementation (for example, anti-displacement policies such as just-cause eviction, regulating pass-through costs, anti-displacement protections, supporting community ownership models).
- Permitting compliance, local housing policy and workforce standard enforcement.
- Equitable workforce transition to support widespread building decarbonization.
- Market-readiness and pricing dynamics of zero-emission alternatives to gas appliances and equipment, in light of recent supply chain issues.
- Business and implementation models that integrate customer energy generation (for example, rooftop solar), load flexibility, energy storage, electric vehicle charging, and zero-emission equipment and appliances, especially for low-income and disadvantaged populations.
- Another topic related to equitable building decarbonization as identified by the proposer.
The potential focal points for this study were based on findings from the “Preliminary Report: Community Priorities for Equitable Building Decarbonization” from the Building Energy, Equity, and Power (BEEP) Coalition, the “Los Angeles Building Decarbonization: Tenant Impact and Recommendations” from the Strategic Actions for a Just Economy (SAJE), CEC’s 2022 Integrated Energy Policy ReportVolume I “Building Decarbonization,” the Workforce Development Board’s "Putting California on the High Road: A Jobs and Climate Action Plan for 2030”, and a recent local decarbonization report from the city of Berkeley, among others.
University of California or California State University researchers are eligible to respond to this solicitation. Proposers are highly encouraged to establish partnerships with organizations leading existing programs or decarbonization initiative(s) at the municipal, regional, or state level. Proposers are welcome to augment or extend ongoing or recently completed pilot program implementation efforts that support the objectives outlined above. This project could also collect and analyze new data, analyze existing secondary data, critically review several initiatives inside or outside of California, and/or consider contextual factors leading to the relative effectiveness of different equitable decarbonization program designs and funding strategies. Proposers are invited to apply their expertise in consideration of the priority areas listed above in developing a pre-proposal with specific objectives, questions, and methods, and anticipated project outcomes.
III. Scope of Work
Task 1 – Create and Execute Steering Committee and/or Partner Organization Agreement
At the pre-proposal stage, proposers will include a general plan for how the lead proposer intends to organize academic and non-academic partners in support of the study. All projects require a non-academic subcontracted partner and/or a study Steering Committee. A non-academic partner may include entities engaged in building decarbonization implementation, community organizing and advocacy, and/or related direct service work. If including a study Steering Committee, the lead proposer would identify and assemble a committee comprised of staff from public agencies, utilities, heating, ventilation, and air conditioning/electric professionals, housing professionals, equity advocates, program specialists, and other relevant stakeholders (offering compensation as appropriate). The Steering Committee would provide expert guidance to inform data collection, analysis, and interpretation of findings.
For proposers working with a subcontracted partner, a letter of support from that partner is required; for proposers working with a Steering Committee, one or more letters of support are encouraged, but not required. In the case of a Steering Committee, the lead proposer should include the names of potential organizations to be invited.
The lead proposer will provide a “Cultural Humility” statement that discusses the research team’s perspective on equity in knowledge production. The pre-proposal itself should demonstrate the team’s approach to addressing power differences among the research team, research partner(s), participants, and/or Steering Committee throughout, including study conception, data collection, analysis, writing, and results dissemination.
At the full proposal stage, the selected proposer will be expected to develop a complete plan for how project design and decision-making will be structured, and how authorship and intellectual property will be shared among the project team. The plan should be written in consideration of resource and power asymmetries among project partners and outline how the project structure will ensure mutual accountability to each project partners’ needs and goals.
Task 2 – Conduct Literature Review
At the pre-proposal stage, the Proposer will provide a general overview of the primary bodies of literature and theoretical frameworks(s) informing their proposed approach, and how their research meets a current knowledge gap in their field. They should discuss planned topics for a fuller a literature review needed to summarize the current state of research and practice in their focus area.
At the full proposal stage, the Proposer will discuss planned additional literature review to be undertaken to support development of the final study plan, the intended approach for the literature review (systematic, thematic, etc.), and the format of the intended deliverable. Proposers should consider how the interim literature review product can synthesize information and present the information such that it is relevant and useable among state and local governments.
Task 3 – Develop Final Study Plan
The proposer will propose a study plan that effectively addresses their chosen focus area. This could involve a “learning-by-doing” pilot-based approach (for example, participant observation, in-depth interviews, and data-based monitoring for a local pilot program) or collecting data to aid in equitable decarbonization policy and program design (for example, rents, building condition, anti-displacement protection enforcement, and upgrade condition in one or more high-cost metro areas; or propane and/or wood fuel costs in areas without gas infrastructure).
Proposers could consider in-depth ethnographic, interview/focus-group based, participant observation, survey, historical-comparative, or other data collection and analysis approaches, and should explain how their research objective and approach meets a critical gap in current knowledge and practice.
At the pre-proposal stage, proposer should identify anticipated project objectives, research questions, phases, tasks, interim deliverables, and timeline. The proposer should explain how the research focus is responsive to California’s equitable building decarbonization objectives and how their chosen methods are well-suited to the project objectives. If the project is continuing or expanding upon current research, evaluation, or pilot program activities, the proposer should explain the novel contributions this effort will add.
This project is intended to focus on one or more specific regional or local contexts. At the pre-proposal stage, proposers should describe the importance and relevance of geography(ies) of focus, and why it is appropriate to the aims of this solicitation.
Proposers are highly encouraged to build multi-disciplinary teams and employ one or more methodological approaches (for example, in-depth participant observation, interviews, surveys, participatory action research, large-scale data analysis, engineering, air quality, health modeling, or experimental designs). Where relevant, the pre-proposal should discuss sampling and data analysis approach and how multiple methods will be used to ‘triangulate’ or enhance the credibility of findings by approaching a topic area from multiple theoretical and/or methodological vantage points.
At the full proposal stage, the selected proposer will provide a more detailed step-by-step description of approach and interim deliverables, in response to review and comments from CARB staff and other interagency reviewers.
Task 4 – Collect and Analyze Data
At the pre-proposal stage, the proposer should identify the intended approach to data collection and analysis. Methods should be selected by the project team to adequately address their stated project objective. Proposers intending to use utility or other proprietary data should discuss their data acquisition plans. Proposers intending to conduct human subjects research should discuss their anticipated methods, recruitment approach, topics, and plan for language access. They should also address research ethics and plan for obtaining Institutional Review Board approval. Pre-proposals may contain more than one data collection and analysis task if a mixed-methods approach is employed.
At the full proposal stage, proposers will provide more details regarding data collection and analysis, in response to comments from CARB staff. If applicable, proposers should pre-register their study in an appropriate venue once their contract commences.
Task 5 – Critically Review Approaches to Policy Cost Analysis
The proposer will work with state policy cost and benefit reporting frameworks (such as Statement of Regulatory Impact Analysis, Initial Statement of Reasons) to evaluate policy efficiency. This component of the analysis will consider those sensitivities that are or are not included in current modeling practice. This task will also make recommendations for potential improvements to policy impact quantification and analysis, with an emphasis on appropriately prioritizing equity considerations.
At the pre-proposal stage, the proposer should identify potential dimension(s), their existing quantification approaches (or lack thereof) and merits of inclusion in policy cost-benefit analyses. Alternatively, the proposer could define an alternative policy quantification framework appropriate to equitable building decarbonization.
At the full proposal stage, the proposer will detail their methods for critically reviewing policy cost analyses, including whether it will focus on quantifying new dimensions (and how those dimensions will be selected) and/or proposing alternative approaches. In the case of an alternative approach, the proposer will develop a comparison to existing methods.
Task 6 – Develop Policy Recommendations
Near the conclusion of the project, the proposer will revisit the current state of decarbonization policies and programs, and, in light of the project findings, provide concrete recommendations for statewide policymaking. This could include strategies to ensure priority populations benefit from building decarbonization regulations, increase priority population participation in decarbonization programs, improve governance approaches for managing equitable decarbonization transitions, identify optimal incentive levels and disbursement strategies to maximize uptake and minimize “gaming” in private markets, etc. The policy recommendations may be directed to all relevant scales of government (local, regional, State, Federal), and must, at a minimum, address CARB’s regulatory and program implementation purview. This could involve recommendations for appliance standard design, exemptions, and rollout phasing; recommendations for funding guidance, and/or recommendations for governance and policy development models related to climate and air quality more broadly.
At the pre-proposal stage, the lead proposer will identify areas where they expect emergent research findings to inform recommended policy or governance interventions.
At the full proposal stage, the lead proposer will explain their process for extending project findings to policy recommendations, ensuring their credibility and validity.
Task 7 – Prepare Quarterly Progress Reports and Draft Final Report
At the pre-proposal stage, the proposer should develop a general plan for anticipated deliverables on at least a semi-annual basis.
At the full proposal stage, the proposer should submit a complete task timeline with anticipated workload and relevant deliverables (such as quarterly progress reports and draft final report) among all project team members.
Task 8 – Final Report, Presentation, and Public Outreach
At the pre-proposal stage, the proposer should outline their plan for synthesizing their project findings in a final report and presentation, and any additional public outreach activities (such as webinars, fact sheets, community meetings, etc.).
At the full proposal stage, the proposer should develop a final plan for research synthesis, presentation, and outreach. The proposal should submit a complete task timeline with anticipated workload and relevant deliverables (such as final report, presentation, public outreach activities) among all project team members.
At Pre-Proposal Stage
- Cultural humility statement.
- Project objective, methods, data sources, and analysis approach.
- Approach to literature review, sources for review and synthesis methods.
- A list of proposed project tasks and deliverables.
At Beginning of Contract
- All researchers must undergo equity training (examples include implicit bias training, racial equity training, etc.). Trainings should be completed or scheduled within 30 days of contract execution.
- Work with CARB staff at the beginning of the project to create a 1-page plain-language outreach deliverable for the public describing the project’s goals, process, and planned deliverables (available in multiple languages, template will be provided).
During Active Contract Period
- Quarterly Progress Reports including public-facing updates to be posted to CARB’s website.
- Quarterly Progress Meetings.
- Informal monthly progress update meetings with CARB contract manager.
- Final detailed study plan.
Prior to Contract Close
- Literature review.
- Draft final report.
- Final report.
- Seminar presenting summary of results.
- Presentation summarizing findings at community meeting(s) or workshop(s) (if applicable).
- Draft and final 2-page project summary for public outreach.
- All data, analyses and analytical tools generated through the course of this project.
- Peer reviewed publications should be publicly available (please budget for this expense; submission-ready publications shall be reviewed by CARB staff).
Additional deliverables to be determined in consultation with CARB staff. Contractor will be responsible for making all deliverables Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant.
It is anticipated this project will be completed in 36 months from the start date (start date is estimated to be in Spring 2023). The estimated budget for this project is up to $450,000.
- Responsiveness to the goals and objectives outlined in the pre-proposal solicitation (20 points)
The pre-proposal should explain—in adequate detail and clear, understandable language—how the proposed project satisfies the project objectives: (1) provide insight into effective program design and governance models (2) build local-level capacity for equitable building decarbonization and (3) collect more detailed information and related examples about actual implementation needs, costs, and outcomes to inform statewide building decarbonization policymaking.
- Policy relevance/benefits to the state (10 points)
Findings from this research will help CARB, other public agencies, local communities, and community-based organizations support ongoing and future efforts to equitably decarbonize buildings. The pre-proposal should explain how the proposed project is relevant to and provides benefits to the state. Reviewers will assess if the pre-proposal describes how the project will provide data, information, and/or products to CARB, and how those project outputs will help CARB accomplish its mission.
- Work experience and subject matter expertise (20 points)
The pre-proposal should demonstrate that the proposers have the work experience or subject matter expertise required to successfully carry out the proposed project as described. Additionally, the pre-proposal should describe how the project will build upon and not duplicate previous relevant work that was funded by CARB, other regional, state, and/or federal agencies. The proposers should have knowledge of building decarbonization technologies, implementation issues and barriers, and current policy and program landscape in California.
Regardless of prior experience with community engagement, the pre-proposal should describe how the team will approach community engagement in the execution of the proposed project. If the proposer has experience with community engagement in research, the pre-proposal should describe this prior work, provide letters of support or references, and/or describe the outcomes of this prior work.
- Expanding expertise (10 points)
The pre-proposal should explain how the project team expands expertise; such as by incorporating multidisciplinary expertise or perspectives, including members from various public universities, non-academic institutions, or community-based organizations, or providing opportunities to build skills and expertise for individuals from groups that are underrepresented in academic research and policy. Reviewers will consider if key personnel contributing significantly to the project (i.e., a principal investigator, co-principal investigator or co-investigator, contributing 25 percent or more of their time to the project) have not worked with CARB in the past five years.
- Explanation of technical or methodological approach (20 points)
The pre-proposal should clearly explain the logic and feasibility of the methodology and technical approach to the project, spell out the sequence and relationships of major tasks, and explain methods for performing the work. The pre-proposal should include a clear description and plan for how each task will be completed. The proposer should specify why the methodology proposed is appropriate to the project objectives and questions, and, if applicable, how aspects of a mixed-methods study will be integrated in the final analysis.
- Level and quality of effort and cost effectiveness (20 points)
The pre-proposal should describe how time and resources will be allocated and demonstrate how this allocation ensures the project’s success. Pre-proposal reviewers will evaluate, for example: if the objectives of the project can be met given this allocation, if there is adequate supervision and oversight to ensure that the project will remain on schedule, if time and cost are appropriately divvied up across different project tasks and stages. The budget should indicate the estimated compensation level for subcontracted partners, Steering Committee members, and any anticipated research incentives.
 Frontline communities refer to historically marginalized communities that experience the first and worst consequences of climate change and other injustices.
 The two projects are: “Equitable Building Electrification: A Pathway to Decarbonization” and “Equitable Commercial Building Decarbonization,” which are in different stages of approval.
 Generally, private subcontracting (i.e., any paid non-government partners including private universities, community-based organizations, nonprofit organizations, private companies, etc.) is limited to 25% of the total direct cost or $50,000, whichever is less. However, up to 50% of the project budget can be subcontracted if there is a strong justification for why the expertise within the subcontract is not currently available within the UC or CSU system. No subcontractor should receive more funding than the prime contractor.
 The lead proposer must be a California State University or University of California. For projects with subcontractors, please note that the total subcontracted funding share cannot exceed 50% of the project total.