The Golden State is about to get even more golden: California made history this month by becoming the first state in the nation to mandate solar power on all new home constructions. The California Energy Commission voted 5-0 in favor of requiring all new residential properties three stories or less to host solar panels with the goal of “walking the walk” on the state’s climate goals. Both the City of Goleta and City of Santa Barbara have made 100% renewable energy commitments for municipal buildings, so the county’s residential properties will now be required to follow suit.
-The mandate still needs final approval from the state’s Building Standards Commission, which is expected. The Commission commonly accepts recommendations from the Energy panel.
-Once finalized, the terms will go into effect on January 1, 2020.
-The rule includes all single-family homes, condos, and apartment complexes that are three stories or less. (For the City of Santa Barbara’s building height restrictions, this includes all single and double family homes.)
-Exceptions will be made for homes too small to host solar panels or that are shaded by neighboring buildings.
The Economic Benefits
Skeptics have a lot to say about this measure, claiming this will worsen California’s ongoing issue of housing affordability. The CEC has estimated that adding solar will increase cost of the average single family home by about $10,000, but homeowners will nearly double their investment over the lifetime of the system. This also doesn’t include the residential tax incentives available for solar energy.
Solar panels are a profitable investment that add value to a home without adding to its taxable property value, protect homeowners from rising utility rates, and have an average internal rate of return of 14% in California. As the world’s fifth largest economy, California taking the lead in moving toward a carbon-free energy matrix is setting the example that sustainability is economically fruitful.
The Environmental Implications
With buildings consuming about a third of the electricity generated in the United States, this regulation will boost the momentum of California’s clean energy movement. The state’s Public Utilities Commission has already released its California Energy Efficiency Strategic Plan to move toward net zero energy: not only requiring on-site generation but also maximizing the energy efficiency of homes and commercial buildings. The other 49 states will be watching closely to see how this mandate affects the state’s economy and electric matrix, which may trigger similar regulations around the United States.
-The average American home uses about 10,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity per year, which generates an annual 7.4 metric tons of CO2 from fossil fuel sources.
-Californians consume about 30% less power than the national average
-The average home installing solar panels offsets the same amount of annual emissions as about 9 acres of forests.
One in five homes in California have solar panels, but this measure could trigger the next phase of the renewable energy boom in our state: creating jobs, saving energy consumers money, and best of all, improving our collective carbon footprint.
Are you an architect or builder?
Contact Lauren, our Outreach Coordinator, to schedule a free workshop at your firm to learn about design with solar in mind.