California Now Requires Solar Panels on Most New Homes

It is the first state to implement a solar panel requirement

Installing solar panels.jpg
California becomes the first state to require new homes to include solar panels. U.S. Department of Energy/Wikimedia Commons

In 2016, the United States reached an energy milestone: 1 million solar panels had been installed on homes and buildings. And the number has continued to rise, reaching 1.6 million last year.

Now, thanks to new regulations approved by the California Energy Commission Wednesday, the number of homes with solar panels will likely continue its steady climb. The new set of standards require that most new homes built after 2020 in the state include solar panels, reports Megan Geuss of Ars Technica.

The move makes California the first state in the country to enact such intense solar-energy requirements for new construction. The new regulation applies to single-family homes and certain low-rise condos, townhomes and apartments, Geuss reports. But the standards still need final approval from California’s Building Standards Commission, reports the Associated Press’ Kathleen Ronayne.

“California is about to take a quantum leap in energy standards,” Bob Raymer, technical director for the California Building Industry Association, tells The O.C. Register’s Jeff Collins. “No other state in the nation mandates solar, and we are about to take that leap.”

Of all the single-family detached homes in the state, only 9 percent currently have solar panels, Reuters reports. And, according to Raymer, just 15 to 20 percent of new single-family homes built include solar panels.

The move is a promising step for renewable energy, but it isn't without concerns. As Ronayne reports, some are worried about the impact of solar panels’ additional cost in the state’s already expensive housing market.

Last year, the California Association of Realtors predicted median home prices will increase to $561,020 in 2018, Jeff Collins wrote for the Register at the time. For comparison, the median price of a home in the U.S. as a whole in 2018 is $337,200. The addition of solar panels in California would likely drive up the cost of each new home by about $10,000.

But the California Energy Commission argues that the energy savings would offset that cost, saving homeowners some $19,000 over 30 years. On the state level, the measure is expected to also show overall benefits. As Geuss reports, the new standards would cost the state economy $2.17 billion but generate energy savings of $3.87 billion.

As Reuters reports, the measure is expected to cut the state’s household emissions. But as James Temple writes for MIT Technology Review, the cut will make up only a fraction of total emissions. "[T]his feel-good change to the building code is a questionable public policy for cutting greenhouse-gas emissions." As he points out, there's another policy that would do more to cut emissions: reducing cars on the road by requiring higher residential density.

As a whole, California is a leader in energy-efficient regulations and clean energy proposals. The state is already the top of the nation's solar installation market, Ronayne reports. ​As the BBC News reports, nearly 16 percent of the state’s energy came from solar last year.

Overall, many regions of the U.S. have strong potential for solar. According to a Google survey of 60 million U.S. buildings, 79 percent are solar viable, meaning they have enough sunlit regions to generate power, Engadget reported last year. And while California becomes the first state to implement this kind of requirement, some cities have already instated similar regulations. Last year, the city of South Miami become the first outside of California to implement the requirement, the Miami Herald reported at the time.

Ethan Elkind, director of the climate program at the University of California at Berkeley’s School of Law, tells Reuters the new standards would likely bring down the price of solar even further, as it provides a large customer base.

“This is pretty landmark,” he says. “It helps basically provide a market for solar.”

The commission estimates that about 165,000 homes and multi-family units will be built in the state in 2020.

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