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California mandates solar PV on all new residential buildings

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The rumblings and rumours were right on the money earlier this week, correctly predicting that, in a meeting held by the California Energy Commission on Wednesday that it would mandate rooftop solar PV installations on all new residential buildings built from 2020 onwards.

As we reported yesterday, reports had been circulating for a few days suggesting that the California Energy Commission (CEC) would approve a change to its 2019 Building Energy Efficiency Standardswhich would require all new residential buildings – including new homes, condos, and apartment buildings – to include solar PV installations.

The potential decision was heralded by clean energy proponents as a momentous occasion. 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.

And, as expected, the CEC met on Wednesday and voted unanimously to approve the new building standards which would, amongst other things, “require solar photovoltaic systems starting in 2020.”

According to the Commission, the move is intended to cut energy use in new homes by more than 50% and is set to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by around the same amount as taking 115,000 cars off the roads.

“Under these new standards, buildings will perform better than ever, at the same time they contribute to a reliable grid,” said Commissioner Andrew McAllister, who is the Energy Commission’s lead on energy efficiency. “The buildings that Californians buy and live in will operate very efficiently while generating their own clean energy.

They will cost less to operate, have healthy indoor air and provide a platform for ‘smart’ technologies that will propel the state even further down the road to a low emissions future.”

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.

There are exceptions for homes and buildings which are honestly incompatible with solar – such as those with the wrong type of roof, or those affected by shade from neighbouring trees or tall buildings.

Builders will also be required to meet stringent energy efficiency standards, involving design choices such as high-performance attics, walls, and windows, as well as properly installed insulation.

The new codes also encouragebuilders to install energy storage systems such as home battery systems like the famed Tesla Powerwall, or heat pump water heating.

Any new requirement like this was always going to increase the cost of construction, but the long-term benefits of a solar PV installation will well and truly offset those costs.

Specifically, according to the Commission – based on a 30-year mortgage – monthly payments will increase by around $40 but will in turn save consumers around $80 a month on heating, cooling, and lighting bills.

“With this adoption, the California Energy Commission has struck a fair balance between reducing greenhouse gas emissions while simultaneously limiting increased construction costs,” said California Building Industry Association CEO and President Dan Dunmoyer.

“We thank the Commissioners and their staff for working with the building industry during the past 18 months and adopting a set of cost-effective standards that ensures homebuyers will recoup their money over the life of the dwelling.”

Unsurprisingly, the move was heralded as a landmark step for not only the solar industry, but for government policies and building codes.

“This is an undeniably historic decision for the state and the US California has long been our nation’s biggest solar champion, and its mass adoption of solar has generated huge economic and environmental benefits, including bringing tens of billions of dollars of investment into the state,” said Abigail Ross Hopper, SEIA’s president and CEO.

“Now, California is taking bold leadership again, recognizing that solar should be as commonplace as the front door that welcomes you home.”

Vivint Solar, one of the United States leading residential solar providers, also praised the efforts, congratulating “the state of California for building the foundation to adopt a forward-thinking approach to its renewable energy initiatives.”  

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  • john

    Because i did studies in my earlier life Architecture, I am totally across building efficiency to do with natural air flow and using passive energy to best efficiency.
    It is a total no brainer to use PV.
    Why?
    Because when i studied iPV was only usable for satellites, now the cost plunge has gone so low that you would be deluded if you did not utilize PV on your building.
    I notice more and more new developers are offering housing with PV as build in.
    This is obviously the outcome of offering a better product for the consumer.
    As to the Article saying exemption for some building which will have a poor outcome that would be because of poor design; and I add not done by an Architect.

    • solarguy

      Well most architects anyway. Form should = function.

  • Brunel

    Ground based solar is cheaper. It is silly to mandate solar panels on apartments!

    And this contradicts the big batteries – the big batteries are far away from the apartments. So why not mandate solar panels far away from the apartments as well?

    • solarguy

      If you think about it the design of apartment buildings could and should change to incorporate PV and passive principles. Use your imagination. What is the mother of invention?

      • There have also been developments of solar panels within glass. Maybe most windows can be fitted with this layered glass!

  • Free market ideologues know very little. California is showing great leadership here. You operate in this market then you have to follow this small rule among many conditions. Its too bad if you don’t like that.