California is officially the first state in the US to mandate solar energy. As of 2020, almost all new homes built in California will require solar installations as part of the building process.1 This means the more than 117,000 single-family homes and 47,000 low-rise multi-family homes going up in 2020 will be solar equipped.2
The ruling was unanimously approved by the California Energy Commission (CEC) as a 2019 energy efficiency standards update. The Golden State tends to lead the way in clean energy goal-setting and implementation, and solar is a big part of that.
In fact, California ranks number one in the nation for solar with more than 22,000 megawatts (MW) installed.3 That number will get a boost with the new requirement, which will expand rooftop solar installation by 44 percent yearly.4
What Are the Mandate’s Requirements
The new energy efficiency standards apply to all new construction. The standards also apply to renovations to existing buildings under three stories tall. The change takes effect on January 1, 2020, though many new homes may begin to have rooftop solar before then. Homes will be required to have photovoltaic systems, with smart inverters and optional battery storage. These smart systems allow the homes to use energy more efficiently. The requirements also outline other home efficiency measures. These measures include better insulation in walls, attics and windows and better air filters. It also encourages batter storage and heat pump water heaters that can ensure a home uses energy during off-peak times.
Why the California Building Market Needs Solar
As the fifth largest economy worldwide, California is home to a growing number of people. The carbon footprint of a growing population, particularly in dense, urban areas, is substantial. The California Air Resources Board notes that the building sector is the second largest source of greenhouse gas in the state.5
The new solar requirement is part of the 2019 Building Energy Efficiency Standards. It furthers the state’s goal of achieving zero net energy. California is requiring utilities to use renewable energy for 50 percent of the state’s resources by 2030. Currently, the state generates renewable energy from several sources, including solar power. More than 16 percent of the state’s power was generated from solar energy in 2017. The standards should reduce electricity demand from the grid while lowering energy costs. The energy they use should also be less carbon-based than before.
The CEC decision sets the pace for healthy growth. As the housing infrastructure continues to expand, the next generation of homes will be self-sustaining models of clean energy.
Exceptions and Alternatives to the California Solar Mandate
There are exemptions and alternatives in cases where rooftop solar is impractical. If there isn’t enough roof space,, a property may be exempt from solar installation.6 A property may also be exempt if there’s too much shade from nearby trees or other buildings for solar panels to generate electricity.
Another option is to pull power from a nearby community solar array. Community solar is growing in popularity for renters and people in complexes where solar isn’t installed on the building itself. It’s also a great option for home builders where rooftop solar panels won’t work.
How buyers will purchase these new homes, and the solar power connected to it, is mostly up to homebuilders. The cost of solar panels for single-family homes can be rolled into the home’s mortgage, purchased separately upfront, or leased.7
Cost and Environmental Impact of New Home Solar Mandate
The energy commission estimates an average of $9,500 in additional upfront costs for new homes. Long-term energy savings, however, are estimated to be around $19,000 over 30 years.8 Put another way, homeowners might pay an additional $40 a month in housing costs, but then save $80 a month through lower utility bills.9
But costs could be even lower thanks to the advantage of combining a brand-new home with clean energy and high-efficiency standards. Each rooftop solar system will be sized based on the estimated kilowatt-hour (kWh) energy usage of the home.10 Since new homes are in peak condition, they’re naturally more efficient. This means the required solar system will often be smaller than those installed on existing homes. With this factored in, costs could be just $4,200, or half of the CEC estimate.11
The 2019 standards will reduce home energy use by about 53 percent. As a result, greenhouse gas emissions are projected to drop by 700,000 metric tons over three years. That’s the equivalent of taking 115,000 fossil fuel cars off the road.12
One possible issue raised by the solar mandate is how it could further strain California’s already challenged housing market.13 But utility companies, government agencies, and energy research organizations are working to find a balance between the various factors involved.
As a whole, energy efficiency and solar combined reduces total home costs.14 The mandate will significantly reduce emissions and shape the environmental landscape moving forward. The CEC decision supports safer, cleaner, and more affordable energy and homeownership.
It seems like California’s residents are looking forward to their new solar energy mandate. We know that many Californians like that the mandate will put solar arrays on every new homeowner’s rooftop, reduce their energy costs and help the environment. Residents can move closer to energy independence thanks to having more efficient homes. New buildings will be able to generate their own clean energy while producing fewer emissions.