Image: California Energy Commission
At the start of 2020, California building and architecture industries will be in for a big change. The California Energy Commission updates the state’s Building Energy Efficiency Standards every three years, and the next wave of code regulations will be enforced on January 1st, 2020. California is becoming the first state in the nation to require solar PV systems for new residential constructions – we are forging a path to a renewable energy future.
There are notable changes throughout the code, but one of the major updates will be the new solar PV requirement. All low-rise residential (3 stories or less) and single-family new constructions will be required to install a solar PV system. Building additions and alterations will not fall under these categories, but accessory dwelling units (ADUs) will. There is an equation to calculate the minimum required PV size for new constructions, and it is dependent on a variety of factors: region, conditioned floor area, number of dwelling units, etc. There are also a handful of exceptions that will allow the required PV size to be reduced, and only one exception that allows the requirement to be entirely circumvented.
It is true that installing solar will add an additional up-front investment to building a new home, but the savings will far outweigh the initial cost. The average residential home built under these new energy efficiency standards can expect to see almost $20,000 in savings over a 30 year period. Solar power benefits the environment and our energy usage, but it is also a beneficial financial investment.
Why It Matters
The goal of these new building standards is not to make our lives more difficult – in fact, it’s quite the opposite. The California Energy Commission (CEC) originally wanted buildings to reach “net zero” emissions, meaning new constructions would be held to the highest possible energy standards. Realizing that this is not economically feasible at this point in time, the CEC has compromised with this set of new building efficiency standards. The main goal is to move California away from its fossil fuel reliance and reduce unnecessary energy consumption, moving us toward a more sustainable future.
To understand the reasoning of the new solar PV requirement, it is helpful to have a broader understanding of the relationship between energy efficiency and carbon emissions. Homes built without efficiency in mind use exponentially more energy from the grid, which is primarily fueled by fossil fuels. The burning of these fossil fuels emits carbon dioxide, one of the most prevalent greenhouse gases. CO2 in the atmosphere is a leading cause of global warming and climate change, and we are currently at a tipping point: if we continue to emit CO2 like we have been, the average global temperature will increase by more than 2 degrees. Once we hit this point, there is no return. Our delicate ecosystems rely on systems of balance, and this 2 degree warming will effectively throw them out of that balance indefinitely.
What happens when we reach this point? The impacts of climate change will vary across the globe, but in general we will experience increased temperatures and drought frequency, an extreme drop in freshwater availability, unpredictable weather patterns and natural disasters, etc. It is important to note that while these impacts will differ geographically, there will also be differences in who feels these impacts. Underserved and disadvantaged communities will bear the burden of the impacts from climate change, as they are the most susceptible to the adverse effects. Climate change disproportionately affects low-income communities, people of color, and other minorities – it is our responsibility to ensure that we minimize these environmental impacts not only for our planet, but for the billions of people who call it home.
We can reduce our carbon footprint by prioritizing energy efficiency, and California has committed to doing so. The state’s new building energy efficiency standards prove that we are a leader in environmental policy, and we are setting an example for the rest of the country. Adding the solar PV requirement is a revolutionary initiative, and we are excited to see how this impacts California’s (and the rest of the United States’) renewable energy goals.
If you are interested in learning more about the technical aspects of designing a home with these new solar requirements in mind, please feel free to reach out to us. We have created an informational handout with specific guidelines to follow. Email us at email@example.com to ask for a copy!