Affordable Housing in San Francisco will become First Zero Net Energy Renovation of its Type

Affordable Housing in San Francisco will become First Zero Net Energy Renovation of its Type


Innovate Net Zero Project will serve the community and achieve statewide carbon reduction goals


San Francisco, CA – A $3 million grant awarded by the California Energy Commission will be used to renovate an existing mixed-use building in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood into a model of zero net energy (ZNE) design. ZNE design means that the building will utilize no more energy than it can produce onsite over the course of a calendar year resulting in no energy utility costs and will emit no greenhouse gasses through energy use.

The project site is the William Penn Hotel, which houses ninety-one low-income residents, including many formerly homeless and at-risk adults. Built in 1907 for owner Gustav Sutro, the building’s historic exterior gives it dignity. Its heating and cooling systems, however, are significantly out of date, leading to less-than-ideal living conditions for occupants and high energy bills for Chinatown Community Development Center, the nonprofit that runs the Direct Access to Housing program at this site. All of that is set to change. The 4-year project with national and regional leaders in advanced building energy systems will use the grant money to implement cost-effective, cutting-edge design upgrades to the building’s heating and cooling systems, insulation, windows, plug load, and energy controls. The project will also provide triple bottom line benefits with social, economic and environmental value and serve as a model for buildings nationally.

Social Impact: The ZNE approach has been proven on high-end commercial office buildings. This project is a chance to apply the same strategies in a cost effective manner on a more challenging building type and to the benefit of the low-income or no-income residents of the William Penn Hotel. “As part of our comprehensive vision for the communities we serve, we believe this project is a huge opportunity for the environmental justice issues facing low-income neighborhoods. Further, this would be the first ZNE building in our portfolio and could be used used for statewide demonstration. This is an opportunity to show that innovation isn’t reserved for new developments and luxury housing,” says Cindy Wu, Deputy Director of the Chinatown Community Development Center.

Economic Effects: When the retrofit is complete, the building owner will not have to pay electric utility bills. If the tenants operate efficient appliances and controls correctly, then there will also be no need to buy additional electricity to support the tenants’ needs. This could have a significant impact on the annual budget that goes towards covering utility costs and how it filters through to the residents. “This is a unique opportunity to engage a historically under-served part of our community in a project that will showcase building technologies and innovations while improving quality of life for building residents, and demonstrating ultra-high efficiency buildings can be designed to benefit all,” says Stan Lew, AIA, LEED AP, Principal at RMW and Executive Director of the San Francisco 2030 District. “This project could become a model for the others, after proving this business case, and our hope is that other affordable housing developers will take notice.” RMW architecture and interiors are the lead designers of the project.

Environmental Benefits: The State of California has set ambitious ZNE targets, including that 50% of existing commercial buildings achieve net-zero by 2030. This aggressive target is especially challenging for buildings under 50,000 square feet. Challenges include significant capital costs, building conditions, operational considerations such as occupant behavior and lack of maintenance expertise, and legal and policy factors. The San Francisco 2030 District, a nonprofit organization dedicated to transform the built environment from the major contributor of greenhouse gas emissions to a central part of the solution to the climate crisis, is providing policy development and stakeholder engagement for the project. “The CEC grant represents a great opportunity to facilitate change that will impact not only the residents of the proposed project, but their neighbors, the neighborhood and the extended community,” says Lew.

As the engineering lead for the building retrofit, Integral Group will provide deep expertise in sustainable building practices.  “Integral Group is very pleased to be able to bring the expertise we’ve gained on over 40 ZNE projects to the multifamily sector, to address the issues of resources, climate change, affordable and responsible housing,” says Andrea Traber, Principal, Sustainability + Innovation, LEED Fellow at Integral Group. “We are delighted to get to do this with great partners.”

The U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) will provide modeling, measurement and verification of the new technologies to be implement in the building. “NREL looks forward to supporting the innovative modeling and decision-making process necessary to reach ZNE in retrofit projects leveraging DOE’s whole-building modeling platforms OpenStudio and EnergyPlus.  And to ensure energy goals are met and ZNE status verified, we will pilot a ZNE meter for measurement and verification,” says Shanti Pless, Senior Energy Efficiency Research Engineer, LEED AP, NREL.

Prospect Silicon Valley (ProspectSV) will serve as the lead on this project to provide strategic management, share best-practices and identify new technologies through the organization’s commercialization support services. “This project will develop a new process for high performance building design by engaging innovators on advanced building technologies and expert stakeholders essential to design, operations and maintenance,” says Rafael Reyes, Deputy Director of ProspectSV. “In addition, the project will provide ongoing information on lessons learned to builders, utilities, facilities, and technology providers.” The project will include a call for innovations to solicit advanced energy technologies to be considered for the design. The Innovate Zero project is one of two ZNE projects ProspectSV is leading in San Francisco.



Chinatown Community Development Center

The Mission of the Chinatown Community Development Center is to build community and enhance the quality of life for San Francisco residents. We are a place-based community development organization serving primarily the Chinatown neighborhood, and also serve other areas including North Beach, Tenderloin, the Northern Waterfront, the Western Addition, Japantown, Polk Gulch, the Richmond, Civic Center and the South of Market area. We play the roles of neighborhood advocates, community organizers, planners, developers, and managers of affordable housing.

Prospect Silicon Valley

ProspectSV is a nonprofit urbantech innovation hub focused on solutions for smarter, cleaner cities. We bring government, corporations and academia together with startups, product teams and expert staff to accelerate innovations in transportation, energy and the built environment. ProspectSV provides a full spectrum of commercialization support including market and technical insight, connections to partners and investors, pilot opportunities as well as access to a $12 million, 23,000 sq. ft. Technology Demonstration Center with working and industrial space, lab facilities and specialized equipment. In partnership with state and local governments, ProspectSV demonstrates and scales leading edge solutions, resulting in the avoidance of nearly 150 million lbs. of CO2 in the coming decade. With projects in over 50 cities, leveraging over $50 million in funding and financing, and with more than 25 corporate sponsors, ProspectSV is the only organization with the ability to both prove and apply solutions for next generation cities. For more information visit

Integral Group

Integral Group is an interactive global network of design professionals collaborating under a single deep green engineering umbrella. We provide a full range of building system design and energy analysis services, with a staff widely regarded as innovative leaders in their fields. Located in sixteen offices across North America and the UK, along with an international network of affiliates, our passion for sustainable design runs deep. ZNE projects include the Packard Foundation HQ (new construction), 435 Indio Way (30k commercial retrofit), and IDeAs Z Squared Building (commercial retrofit).

RMW Architecture and Interiors

RMW’s mission is to “create inspired human environments through the power of responsible design.” Named one of the U.S.’ Top 50 Firms by Architect Magazine, RMW architecture & interiors is driven to create work environments that encourage productivity, vitality and harmony within a client’s culture and business objectives. Environmental responsibility is a key element of RMW’s design philosophy. To us, “responsible design” means recognizing that the built environment has the power to change the world and affect lives in meaningful and specific ways. Our goal for every project, regardless of size or scope, is to shape a healthy, engaging environment that delights our clients. To that end, we incorporate research and applications from Architecture 2030, the U.S. Green Building Council, the Living Building Challenge, and, increasingly, the WELL Building Standard, to find sensible and effective solutions.

San Francisco 2030 District

The San Francisco 2030 District is a privately led nonprofit focused on achieving the goals of the 2030 Challenge for Planning issued by Architecture 2030. With over 10 million square feet of San Francisco real estate committed to the goals, the San Francisco 2030 District aims to outperform energy, water and transportation baselines by 50% at the district scale.  Together the San Francisco 2030 District and Architecture 2030’s mission is to rapidly transform the built environment from being a major contributor of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to a central part of the solution to the climate crisis.


  1. – […] Valley (Prospect SV), along with several other groups, announced in May the beginning of the renovation of the William…

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