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New homes in 2020 must have solar, mandate says
solar homes
Starting Jan. 1, 2020, new homes must be constructed to generate solar electricity through panels typically placed on the home’s roof. Pictured is Mason Foster and Carlos Espindola, seniors who are part of the Ceres High School Manufacturing Academy, finishing up a solar installation atop a local roof.

Just weeks after California celebrated building one million solar energy systems on homes, schools, farms and businesses throughout the state, new legislation that went into effect Wednesday will ensure that number continues to grow.

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 new mandate is expected to be a major step forward for California’s efforts to achieve 100 percent clean energy while giving consumers a more reliable source for their power, and is expected to zero out energy consumption in newly-constructed homes covered by the standards.

The mandate goes into effect on the heels of a statewide celebration in December, which saw former Governors Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jerry Brown join local high school students, solar business leaders and workers, renewable energy advocates and community leaders to rejoice in achieving one million solar roofs across California.

In 2006, then-Gov. Schwarzenegger signed the Million Solar Roofs Initiative into law, which set the goal of one million solar energy systems that was ultimately reached in 2015. Today, California consumers have installed nearly nine gigawatts of solar energy, three-fold the original goal. Those nine 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 this steady market growth, the price of solar energy has dropped 80 percent, 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.

This has made solar desirable among homeowners in Turlock, according to JKB Energy Director of Business Development Rich Borba, who also serves as the company’s lead policy expert and is a member of the California Solar and Storage Association’s Board of Directors. However, there are setbacks.

“Solar is very popular and customers tend to be extremely satisfied, but this requirement — like any mandate — does add complexity and cost for homebuilders,” Borba said.

The bill will affect the housing market, but ultimately ends up beneficial for the purchaser.

“The upfront cost of a new home will increase, but over the life of the system will save the homeowner money as the investment is paid back,” Borba said.

According to Borba, a typically solar system on a family home can cost anywhere from $10,000 to $15,000. While he believes the new law is great for promoting cleaner energy, he admits solar isn’t a one-size-fits-all for homes.

“Mandates tend to add cost. I love all the solar we have on homes and the things we do, but unfortunately there are going to be people priced out of buying a new home,” Borba said. “It’s like adding sprinklers to a home — it doesn’t seem like much, but there’s a cut off where some people wanting to purchase a home are going to be left behind.”

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. 

The new 2020 energy standards 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.

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 smooths out prices, takes pressure off the electric grid, and gives consumers a degree of reliability unheard of a few years ago. 

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 One Million Solar Roofs goal and enacted the new home solar mandate, solar advocates are calling for one million solar-charged batteries in California by 2025.