Will Mandating Solar Payoff for California?

The California Energy Commission (CEC) has been working since 2008 to create building standards that will lead to Net-Zero-Energy Homes (NZH) construction. Energy Efficiency (EE) strategies such as better insulation, low-E glass, lighting standards, and more economic appliances have very effectively reduced the energy footprint of a home but cannot get rid of it. The CEC believes that adding solar to the mix may be the best way to create a Net Zero household.

Therefore the CEC has unanimously voted to mandate solar electricity for all new homes, major remodels and low rise multi-family construction starting in 2020. With this ruling, California becomes the first state in the country to make solar panels mandatory.

The system size is to be based on the square footage of the household and its climate zone.  This additional cost is expected to range from $8,000 to $18,000 per home and will save its occupants twice that amount over the course of a thirty year mortgage for an estimated 130,000 domiciles in the first year.  Economies of scale are expected to come into play as well as the inexorable march to less costly solar equipment. The whole program will be reviewed by the end of 2023.

Will this mandate be greeted by consumers who must pay up-front for their energy?  Will architects & designers find its complexity to be yet another bureaucratic headache?  Will builders simply award their contracts to the lowest bid?  Or will they take care to have quality equipment installed by experienced contractors?  

Many details will naturally be worked out in the marketplace starting in 2020 or earlier, but it is likely that many roof lines will need to be altered if the permit is not granted before the end of 2019, that many permit applications will be rushed to the counter before 2020 and that the 30 year expected dollar savings may change for better or worse given the fact that the utility serving the household will be a not-so-silent partner in this deal. 

As they say, the devil is in the details.


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Pat Redgate is the CEO and President of Ameco Solar. Pat has been installing solar thermal and solar PV systems through Ameco Solar since 1974.

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