State-Based Approaches to Solar PV in New Homes

States are using a variety of innovative approaches to support the market for solar energy in new homes, according to a report released recently by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the Clean Energy States Alliance (CESA). The report describes the specific approaches that state clean energy funds and several other organizations have pursued to drive the adoption of solar photovoltaics (PV) in new homes.

“New homes have increasingly been recognized as a promising market for solar energy,” explained Ryan Wiser of Berkeley Lab, “and this report provides a useful point of reference for identifying the types of strategies that could be used to support the growth of this market.” The report comes on the heels of a proposal in California to implement the world’s largest initiative aimed specifically at stimulating growth of PV in the new residential construction market. A driving force behind the proposed 10-year, $350 million program is California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s goal to have PV installed on half of all new homes built in the state by 2017. And California is not alone: other states are increasingly supporting solar energy, and many other states are targeting the new residential construction market. “Clean energy funds have been particularly aggressive in their efforts to stimulate PV adoption in new homes,” said CESA’s executive director Lewis Milford. Several state funds have offered financial incentives specifically for new, highly energy-efficient homes with PV — often referred to as “zero-energy homes.” States have also conducted education and outreach to professionals in the residential building industry to overcome the widespread lack of familiarity with PV. Still other states have tailored their rebate programs for PV to accommodate the unique attributes of the residential new construction market. As Berkeley Lab’s Mark Bolinger explained, “By sharing these early experiences, we hope that this report will lead to even better programs in the future.” To date, the greatest number of PV installations on new homes are in California, and those systems have been installed at significantly lower costs than systems used in standard retrofit applications. The study also finds that solar deployment may be most successful if builders commit to installing PV as a standard feature throughout new subdivisions, rather than simply offering it as an option to homebuyers. Creating the requisite level of support for this to happen on a widespread scale will likely require a significant policy commitment both in the amount and duration of financial incentives that are offered, and will require that incentives be tailored to the new home market. “Without these programs, the market for PV in residential new construction would simply not exist,” says Berkeley Lab’s Galen Barbose. “California and other states are playing a crucial role, and going forward, it is important to think strategically about what approaches are most effective for this promising market.” The report, “Supporting Photovoltaics in Market-Rate Residential New Construction: A Summary of Programmatic Experience to Date and Lessons Learned,” can be downloaded from the following link.
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