Solar Panel Requirement For New California Homes Clears Hurdle

San Francisco became the first major USA city in 2017 to require builders to install solar panels on at least 15 percent of new homes and buildings.

Critics said the new measures will drive up the cost of building new homes by almost $10,000, in a state already facing a housing crisis and soaring construction costs. In addition to the solar requirements, the new Standardsalso incentivised energy storage and efficiency measures, all seeking to reduce the climate impact of residential dwellings in the Golden State.

The CEC estimates the move will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 700,000 metric tons over the course of three years. The commission estimates that 117,000 single family homes and 48,000 multi-family units will be constructed in California in 2020.

Under the new building standards, all new residential dwellings will be required to install solar panels on their roof or tap into a community solar project. It goes into effect January 1, 2020, and includes all condominiums and apartment buildings up to three stories high.

Effectively integrating a growing supply of intermittent solar and wind energy will require adding far more storage, transmission, and smart grid systems.

"Adoption of these standards represents a quantum leap in statewide building standards", Bob Raymer, the technical director for the California Building Industry Association said in remarks to the energy commission prior the vote in Sacramento.

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Already, the news has been a boon for solar developers such as Sunrun, Vivint Solar and First Solar.

Experts suggest the cost of adding solar on new homes in areas such as the San Francisco Bay region where real estate prices are already high may not affect homebuyers as much.

The requirement does include exceptions when solar panels aren't feasible - such as on a home shrouded in shade - or cost effective. The current standards offer a solar-only credit, allowing for a trade off between solar power and energy efficiency. "California's affordability problem is making it more and more hard for people to afford to live here". But consumers would get that money and more back in energy savings, according to the commission.

She says she'd like to see some sort of a rebate plan to help low-income home buyers access the market.

The new regulation must still be approved by the state's building standards commission, which is considered a formality.

But this feel-good change to the building code is a questionable public policy for cutting greenhouse-gas emissions. "We are also sending a national message that ... we are a leader in the clean energy economy".

  • Ronnie Bowen