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Published on May 6th, 2016 | by Zachary Shahan


Santa Monica Follows The 1 Million, Requires Solar On New Rooftops

May 6th, 2016 by  

As we reported weeks ago, the United States has passed 1 million solar installations. It’s an exciting milestone, and not the least because we are going to double that much, much more quickly than it took us to get from 1,000 or even 100,000 to 1 million.

One of the things that will drive faster and faster adoption is sensible policy from cities and counties to require air-protecting, climate-stabilizing, job-creating, low-cost solar panels on new buildings. We’ve already seen that in Lancaster (residential buildings only) and Sebastopol (residential and commercial buildings). Apparently, Culver City has a similar mandate as well. Much more recently, San Francisco tagged on to become the largest city with a rooftop solar mandate for new buildings. Now, Santa Monica (where Kyle Field and I recently made our Tesla Model 3 reservations!) is joining the circus.


According to Christian Roseland, though, Santa Monica’s mandate is even stronger than the Culver City, Lancaster, and Sebastopol ones, but comparable to San Francisco’s. He writes: “New single family homes will be required to install a minimum of 1.5 watts of solar PV for every square foot of the building, meaning that a 2,000 square foot (186 square meter) home would need a minimum of 3 kW of solar PV. Multi-family buildings, non-residential buildings and hotels will be required to install 2 watts of PV for every square foot of building footprint.”

Some libertarians in town may be fuming right now and asking how a city has the right to make such a mandate. Well, first of all, cities have all kinds of mandates (building codes are pretty thick, for example) to protect the health and safety of their citizens. As noted above, there are plenty of reasons why renewable energy fits the bill here. Now, you may contend, “Why does it have to be solar? Why not wind or basement nuclear fusion?” The thing is that solar power is cost-competitive (after a massive price drop over recent years) while rooftop wind power is not (and basement nuclear was a joke).

In fact, a key benefit of the mandate is that it is projected to offer large financial savings to the city’s residents. Solar power is now a money saver. Turning back to our buddy Christian: “The city has argued that the benefits of installing solar outweigh the additional cost. The city estimates that new solar PV is expected to add 2.8% to the cost of a single-family home while long-term electricity costs will be reduced an average of 65%, ultimately meaning savings for homeowners.”

But make no mistake, this new mandate is about climate action. It is about Santa Monica doing its part to ensure the livability of the planet. We have already ordered up a large helping of catastrophe, and are on the brink of creating a global warming runaway that we have no logical right to believe we could safely stop.

Santa Monica Sustainability Manager Dean Kubani states: “This is not only the smart thing to do, it is also imperative if we are to protect our kids and grandkids from the worst effects of climate change.” Let’s hope a lot more municipalities are sensible enough to implement similar mandates soon.

Now, to try to be a bit helpful (and promote our own hard work), if you are in Santa Monica (or elsewhere) and looking for tips on going solar, I recommend:

Solar Panel Installers — Top Solar Panel Installers & How To Evaluate Them

And if you are a solar installer trying to make it big in one of these burgeoning markets, I recommend:

Resources For Solar Installers


Cost of Solar Panels — 10 Charts Tell You Everything

Nevada PUC’s Rooftop Solar Scrum Continues

Advantages & Disadvantages Of Solar Power

Which Solar Panels Are Most Efficient?

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About the Author

is tryin' to help society help itself (and other species) with the power of the word. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director and chief editor, but he's also the president of Important Media and the director/founder of EV Obsession and Solar Love. Zach is recognized globally as a solar energy, electric car, and energy storage expert. He has presented about cleantech at conferences in India, the UAE, Ukraine, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, the USA, and Canada. Zach has long-term investments in TSLA, FSLR, SPWR, SEDG, & ABB — after years of covering solar and EVs, he simply has a lot of faith in these particular companies and feels like they are good cleantech companies to invest in. But he offers no professional investment advice and would rather not be responsible for you losing money, so don't jump to conclusions.

  • Ronald Brakels

    In some foreign type places a points system is used. A new house might need a certain number of points that relate to environmental sustainability, but it is up to the owner/builder as to how to get those points. For example, insulation gives points, rainwater tanks give points, and solar hot water and solar PV give points. Now where I am, solar PV would be a very easy way to get points, so pretty much every house would end up with it, but it wouldn’t be required. People would be free to use other methods if they wish.

  • Epicurus

    To libertarians and other free market fundamentalists:

    Millions of kids could have a lower IQ as well as reduced memory and reasoning skills because of air pollution.


    Should everyone have the option of poisoning children when there is a reasonable, economic alternative?

    Community solar installations should of course be an allowed alternative to the rooftop mandate.

  • Robert Monie

    There are many kinds of trees that do not grow tall enough to block sunlight on rooftops, even on very low houses. Any competent landscaper can suggest which ones to use. The shorter trees will shade the windows of the house, leaving the rooftop sun load undiminished, so you get the best of both worlds. Short trees have another big advantage over tall ones; they are much safer during storms because their limbs don’t weigh as much and they are less likely to damage the house or harm people who might walk beneath them. Every aspect of house design and construction as well as landscaping should support the sustainable features of solar energy. Those that do not need to be changed. Eventually, all the appliances used in the house will have to be low energy users to get the most out of solar. LED lighting is only the first step in this total redesign of dwellings to meet the demands of the solar age. Food processors and cookers, refrigerators, computers, cooling and heating and water heating systems–anything that draws energy–all need to be rethought and redesigned specifically for photovoltaic electricity. “Business as usual” will not bring anything close to sustainability.

    • Geoff Wood

      Options are still required, for example I would have to cut down several 200+ year old trees to even get my house to a 10-year payback. To achieve a 5-yer payback I would have to have several dozen of these age trees removed off the property just to the South. Money went into superinsulation, all-LED, and heat-pump hot water, etc. instead. Having a large community-solar project on public land as a place to contribute “in-lieu-of” should be a given if they are mandating compliance (which I do fully agree with, like Maui’s solar-hot-water mandate.)

      • Epicurus

        Since the mandate applies only to new construction, you are safe.

        Builders will have other considerations besides trees, e.g. the geographic orientation of the house and the slope of the roof.

      • Epicurus

        “Having a large community-solar project on public land as a place to
        contribute ‘in-lieu-of’ should be a given if they are mandating


        The impediment to community solar here in Texas, I am told, is a consequence of having a deregulated electricity market. We don’t have “virtual” net metering.

        Is virtual net metering how community solar projects work or have to work? Does anyone know?

  • Farmer_Dave

    Perhaps Santa Monica is truly concerned about sea level rise, since it is an oceanfront city?

  • Leeper

    So what happens if you build your house and it will be shaded by trees or other structures? Will you still be forced to install panels? I’m planing on putting panels on my next home, but one size fits all doesn’t work for everyone.

    • Brunel

      Yep. A lot of people will cut trees to get solar PV. Or not put trees in new suburbs.

      One of the unintended consequences of the law.

      A large solar power station outside the city can make clean energy. No need to force rooftop solar in all new houses.

    • heinbloed

      If I’m not wrong the palm trees are dying, others are under watering restrictions.

      I thinks lawns are sprayed there with green dye, maybe horizons as well?

    • As I just noted below: An equivalent amount of solar someplace else has been an option in such cases in other jurisdictions. Haven’t see the details of this one though.

  • Brunel

    Did they think about tennis courts on the roof.

    Maybe they could allow offset solar panels so that solar panels can be put on old houses instead, so that the tall buildings can have rooftop tennis.

    ie, the solar panels do not have to be on the new skyscraper – they can be put on old houses instead.

    • there were provisions before (in some of the other cities mentioned) about alternatives to putting the solar on the roofs. but i haven’t seen the Santa Monica details.

  • vensonata .

    3 kw PV closes in on 5000 kwh per year. A little less than average household use in California, but close. Heck, once you are up on the roof you might as well go 4 or 5.

  • Philip W

    Nice! Hopefully many many cities will follow.

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