California can stand up against whatever flavor of the year Washington, D.C., tries to impose on the rest on the country. As the world’s 5th largest economy, it continues to push for renewable energy and electric vehicles despite an unruly political landscape that has slowed down cleaning up our pollution and stabilizing our climate.
Once more, California has forged ahead, with the latest news being that it is requiring new homes come with solar panels on the roof starting January 1, 2020, approximately one and a half years from now.
California Forges Ahead
The Californian Energy Commission approved new energy standards on Wednesday, May 9, that would require solar panels on the roofs of nearly all new homes, condos, and apartment buildings by 2020.
Solar companies will rejoice at the prospect of a Californian mandate of solar homes, but we can also expect a lot of backdoor resistance and lobbies fighting the state against that measure as it would seriously disrupt the way utilities operate in the state.
Homebuilder Meritage Homes currently installs solar on 10% of its homes. Only 1% of them are net-zero homes. The company estimates having built more than 6,000 solar homes in the past 7 years. According to C.R. Herro, Meritage’s vice president of environmental affairs, the new energy standards would only add about $25,000 to $30,000 to the construction of a new home compared to the 2006 code. Solar accounts for about $14,000 to $16,000 of that cost. The regulations also include increased insulation, a rarity amongst older homes, as well as more efficient windows, appliances, lighting, and heating, which all together account for another $10,000 to $15,000. Overall, that extra $25,000 to $30,000 saves homeowners $50,000 to $60,000 in the owner’s reduced operating costs over 25 years, and the home’s solar system can last much longer than that. Although that number is relatively low, it will only rise in favor of the consumer.
But Bill Watt, former president of the Orange County Building Industry Association, adds a point that is hard to handle practically in a state where the frenzied pace of homebuilders and design consultants have added unbearable costs for first-time buyers. The state’s building mandates and other fees on top of them mean these homes are priced further and further out of the reach of many potential buyers. He rightfully points out that we already don’t build enough affordable housing. “Why not just pause for a little while, focus on the affordability and housing issues, then circle back?”
Well, there is actually a reason why not. As indicated above, the new regulations result in lower housing costs in the long run. Lower housing costs mean more affordable housing, even if it takes some time for the upfront costs to be paid off and start saving the tenants money.
Andrew McAllister, one of five state energy commissioners voting on the new homebuilding standards, said, “Zero net energy isn’t enough. If we pursue (zero net energy) as a comprehensive policy, we’d be making investments that would be somewhat out of touch with our long-term goals.”
Why California Mandates Solar Homes
There are actually a handful of California cities that have led the solar mandate push. Lancaster passed a solar mandate on new homes in 2013, Sebastopol passed a solar mandate on new homes and new commercial buildings just a little bit later, and then came Santa Monica, Culver City, and San Francisco in the following few years. (In 2017, South Miami became the first US city outside of California to implement a solar mandate on new homes.)
Most people might have a fantasized notion of California as being a land of EVs and crystal blue skies whose energy is driven by clear, pure sunshine. Nothing could be further from the truth in many parts of the state, especially in bigger cities where various modes of transportations collide with disastrous air pollution emission problems.
Bob Raymer, technical director for the California Building Industry Association, said it well: “California is about to take a quantum leap in energy standards. No other state in the nation mandates solar, and we are about to take that leap.” This new plan doesn’t mean all homes will be net-zero status, but it does mean a conversion to no waste would be far easier than it is today with existing ancient homes made of wood and poor insulation.