California Solar and Storage Association explains background on California’s new home solar mandate

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In 2020, solar power will be required for new homes in California. The new mandate is expected to be a major step forward for California’s efforts to achieve 100% clean energy while giving consumers more reliable sources of energy. The new standard comes at a critical time for solar, as the state has just reached 1 million solar roofs and the potential for local solar and storage is reshaping the future of energy.

Be aware of California rooftop solar mandate basics.

Under new rules adopted in 2018 by the California Energy Commission, starting Jan. 1, 2020, new homes must be constructed to generate solar electricity through panels typically placed on the home’s roof. The solar mandate is expected to zero-out energy consumption in newly constructed homes covered by the standard. The new mandate recognized that with today’s technology and availability solar capabilities are an essential part of new home construction much like water heaters and stove-tops, according to the California Solar and Storage Association.

The rules apply to all new single-family homes and multi-family complexes up to three stories in height. The size of the solar system installed must be based on the home’s floor area square footage and sized to meet the annual kilowatt-hour energy usage of the home.

Energy storage, typically in the form of a battery in the garage, will also get a boost from the new 2020 standards. For the first time, the addition of energy storage devices in the home will generate a credit toward meeting minimum building efficiency standards. This credit gives builders greater flexibility in meeting the state’s stringent energy efficiency codes, according to the association, which expects it will become increasingly popular with consumers concerned about grid reliability.

There are limited exceptions included in the mandate for cases when solar is infeasible, such as at homes that are shaded by trees or other preexisting buildings.

The solar mandate will make home ownership more affordable, the association said. Homeowner savings on their utility bills are expected to exceed the corresponding increase in mortgage payments by $35 per month. Furthermore, alternative financing models such as power purchase agreements give homebuyers the option of including solar without any additional cost to the home.

California is the first state in the nation to enact a solar mandate for new home construction.

Solar surges in California.

The new home solar mandate comes as solar energy is quickly becoming a mainstream appliance across California.

Solar advocates recently celebrated reaching the “1 million solar roofs” milestone, a vision signed into law in 2006 by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The benefits of the Million Solar Roofs Initiative exceeded expectations, the association said. The initiative’s goal was to build 3 gigawatts of rooftop solar throughout the state within 10 years. The program met its goal in 2015, ahead of schedule, and the market has continued to grow.

Today, California consumers have installed nearly 9 gigawatts of solar energy, threefold the original goal. Those 9 gigawatts of solar energy – the size equivalent of six large natural gas power plants – generate more than 13 billion kilowatt-hours of clean electricity each year avoiding 22 million tons of CO2, 16,000 tons of smog-forming pollutants, over 350 billion cubic feet of natural gas and bypassing expensive and aging utility infrastructure. Due to steady market growth, the price of solar energy has dropped 80% paving the way for today’s solar home mandate. It is now more cost effective to include solar on the home than it is to build a home without solar. In other words, the homeowner saves more money owning a solar home than a non-solar home, making solar energy a no-brainer addition to a home, according to the association, just like insulation and double-paned windows both of which add upfront costs to the home but pay for themselves over time.

Builders have been installing solar on roughly 15,000 new homes each year. The solar mandate will more than quadruple that figure, causing a boon in the new home solar market.

Are utilities standing in the way of success?

California Solar and Storage Association said effort by utility companies to circumvent the requirements of the new home solar mandate threaten progress in California.

The Sacramento Municipal Utility District recently submitted a plan to the California Energy Commission that would allow builders to forgo installing rooftop solar by pointing to large SMUD-controlled solar farms which could be located far from the new housing development. PG&E was quick to support SMUD’s proposal before the energy commission. While the commission has yet to rule on the plan, legal and solar experts said such operations would violate both the letter and spirit of the new rule.

The next step for California is solar and storage.

With the expansion of solar-powered energy on the move, solar advocates are focusing on the next logical step: paring solar power with solar battery storage. Current solar and battery technologies are transforming the future of energy and creating new opportunities for California to reach 100% clean, renewable energy. The ability to store energy for use when and where it is needed is a simple, but revolutionary step forward for consumers. With today’s batteries, homeowners and businesses can store solar energy for use after sundown or during a blackout. This ability could even out prices, take pressure off the electric grid and give consumers a degree of reliability unheard of a few years ago, according to the association.

The California Public Utilities Commission recently proposed expanding rebates for consumers to add a battery to their home, whether for new or existing homes, with a great emphasis on disadvantaged communities facing the threat of blackouts. Solar and storage advocates applaud the availability of rebates and urge the state to make them available to all consumers to help drive down the cost of batteries and reach the state’s clean energy goals.

Having successfully reached the “1 million solar roofs” goal and enacted the new home solar mandate, solar advocates called for 1 million solar-charged batteries in California by 2025.

Ben Davis is a police associate for California Solar and Storage Association. For more information, call (805) 403-7936. 

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