This All-Electric Neighborhood May Be the Future of Green Living

KQED, June 12, 2023, By Laura Klivans


Michael Conrique and Justine Yotti-Conrique with their Bordoodle, Ziggy, in their new home in Menifee. (Laura Klivans/KQED)

Justine Yotti-Conrique and Michael Conrique open the front door to the cream-colored, one-story home they purchased and moved into about a month ago. Their 6-month-old puppy, Ziggy, excitedly jumps up and down.

Retreating into their light-filled home, the couple shows off new stainless-steel appliances and marvels at finally having a dishwasher after so many rentals without.

Justine and Michael are first-time homeowners in a newly constructed development called Durango at Shadow Mountain in the sunny town of Menifee, in Riverside County.

"Generally when you buy a home, it's more of a selfish decision," Michael said. "You're just thinking about your family's future."

Roughly 25% of California's planet-warming pollution comes from homes, industrial buildings and the energy generated off-site to power them.

"But buying into this home, specifically, it felt like we were still making an impact. We like to think of ourselves as climate activists, so we just want to make sure we're still playing our part," Michael said.

The 78 single-family homes in this community, and the 141 in another development right next to it called Oak Shade at Shadow Mountain, are constructed by KB Home, a home-building company based in Los Angeles. The properties are all completely electric, and designed to create zero harmful greenhouse gas emissions.

Several entities came together to get this community off the ground: utility Southern California Edison, solar company SunPower, automaker Kia, manufacturer Schneider Electric, UC Irvine and the U.S. Department of Energy.



Among the many green technologies in the homes in Durango at Shadow Mountain are a 13-kilowatt-hour SunVault battery from SunPower. All homes are electric-vehicle-charger-ready. (Courtesy KB Home)


From the outside, these homes don't sport much futuristic flair, apart from solar panels atop each roof. But the interior of the homes are tricked out with the latest energy-efficient, greenhouse-gas-free appliances. Each home has electric water and space heat pumps and induction stoves, and every garage has a backup battery.

Justine and Michael control many aspects of their home from apps on their smartphones, which feed them precise details about how much energy they're using and which appliances are consuming. In many ways, living in a home like this feels like living in the house version of an iPhone.

"Being able to have control over your house with the touch of your fingers air-conditioning [is] definitely nice," Justine said.

But what's really unique about this community is a far more expansive idea of community. Justine and Michael won't just be sharing extra lemons with neighbors, or letting the neighbors know they left their garage door open.

They'll be sharing the electricity they generate from their solar-paneled roofs.

"We're all contributing our actual energy to this big community battery," Justine said. "Once ours is charged, it keeps going there to really keep us all safe."

All homes within the development are connected to an industrial-scale, container-ship-sized battery. They're also connected to each other through a microgrid: a self-contained system that can run even if power from a utility shuts off.

Scott Hansen, vice president of forward planning and land development at KB Home, said that when the power goes out, either due to high demand, public safety power shutoffs in cases of wildfire risk, or other factors, these homeowners will be prepared.

"This community can function independently from an electricity standpoint," Hansen said. "You don't lose your internet, you don't lose your lights, you don't lose your ability to turn on anything in the home."

Hansen added that homes could maintain power without interruption from two days to two weeks, depending on how much power the rooftop solar panels can generate during a specific time of year, and taking into account the amount of home energy use.

"Building this way, we're not contributing to worsening those very conditions, whether it be the drought, the deluge, just the extreme back and forth that you get with any kind of climate change," Hansen said.



A model home in Durango at Shadow Mountain. (Courtesy KB Home)


The U.S. Department of Energy has dedicated $6.65 million to this project in grant funding in an effort to help develop the homes and study the microgrid's performance.

Acting Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Alejandro Moreno said the department has spent the last 40 years making individual clean technologies work and making them more affordable. He said while there is still work to do on individual appliances, most are ready for the big time.

The question now is how the different technologies work together.

"How the solar generation interacts with the battery, interacts with the vehicle charging with the heating, with the appliances," Moreno said.

Moreno's also watching how partnerships among people are playing out.

"Just as important is how different people and organizations work together, build trust and work across fields that previously may not have had to engage with each other," Moreno said.

A lot remains to be seen with a project like this - and how it could scale for a greener future. For one, these homes are all market rate, with a price tag from the low $500,000s to the low $600,000s.

Critics contend that this kind of subdevelopment further contributes to suburban sprawl.

Regardless, KB Home representatives said that properties at Durango and Oak Shade are selling faster than comparable ones in the area.

Justine Yotti-Conrique said she likes the people who are moving into the neighborhood.

"Everyone has that type of friendliness here of, 'We're all in this together,'" she said. "And modeling - being some of the first people that are willing to take a chance and do something different."