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New Energy-Efficient Microgrid Communities Green The Suburbs

Construction company KB Home has launched California’s first all-electric, solar- and battery-powered microgrid communities. These new “green suburb” communities are connected by a self-contained power system that operates off the state’s traditional power grid. The project is a partnership with the United States Department of Energy, SunPower Corp, California Edison, the Advance Power and Energy Program at the University of California, Irvine, and Kia to test how energy efficient these new homes can be. 

KB Home anticipates at least a 40% reduction in energy consumption compared to a conventional home, a decrease that adds up to cutting carbon emissions and saving money. The federal government has contributed more than $6.65 million to help build the communities, with hopes the microgrid could serve as a model for future housing developments.

Photo Courtesy KB Home 

The first two microgrid communities will be built in the Oak Shade and Durango communities in Menifee, CA, at the Shadow Mountain master plan site. Each will share a “community battery,” which provides backup power during an outage. Homeowners can easily switch to battery energy and disconnect from the grid to maintain basic home energy functions during an outage. 

At Oak Shade, 141 homes will be connected to a second microgrid with the ability to tap solar energy and community batteries to ensure electricity flows regardless of a blackout.

Each home also acts essentially as a standalone power plant, each potentially supplying electricity to keep the small grid stable during high demand, such as a heat wave. 

All of the homes’ heat pumps and thermostats are Wi-Fi enabled, giving users the ability to connect the home’s appliances, batteries, and solar arrays for optimal, efficient use. All homes are pre-wired for electric vehicle (EV) charges, and several dwellings include Wallbox bi-directional chargers that can transfer energy from the car battery to the house and back again. At least 20% of new buyers have elected to install an EV charger fully.

Photo Courtesy KB Home

“KB Home has been at the forefront of deploying advanced technologies and energy solutions for the benefit of our homebuyers,” Jeffrey Mezger, KB Home’s chairman, president, and chief executive officer, said in a statement. “In our pursuit of building better homes, better communities, and a better future, we believe that our all-electric, solar- and battery-powered homes at Oak Shade and Durango in Menifee, California, have the potential to deliver significant energy savings.” 

“Working with industry and academic leaders, we plan to explore how these energy-smart connected communities can help protect the environment and turn our homes into their own power centers designed to deliver resiliency while also reducing the overall cost of long-term homeownership,” Mezger continued

There are numerous benefits for homeowners. KB Home estimates that its homes have cumulatively decreased power utility bills for its homeowners by an estimated $856 million.

The residents can sell the excess electricity their solar panels generate to Southern California Edison

Every connected home will also be designed as a Department of Energy Zero Energy Ready Home. Each house is constructed to maximize efficiency for human comfort, dialing in everything from temperature to water pressure. However, a current drawback is that residents may not be able to run everything simultaneously.

Photo Courtesy KB Home

According to KB Homes, to date, the company has reduced carbon emissions by an estimated cumulative 6.3 billion pounds — equal to taking more than 600,000 gasoline-powered passenger vehicles off the road in a year. It appears the potential for these low-carbon, energy-efficient microgrid communities as cleaner, greener neighborhoods of the future is just beginning.

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