The new building standards in California that will require solar panels for all new single-family houses and low-rise multifamily complexes will come into effect starting January 1st.
Passed in 2018 by the California Energy Commission (CEC), the mandate is designed to reduce carbon emissions and smog across the state, as well as help homeowners save money long-term. A bonus positive effect is that solar panels that directly charge storage batteries in a home can keep the lights on during a blackout. While the vast majority of homes have solar panels tied to the grid and are still susceptible to blackouts, solar panels directly tied to batteries as backup power did manage to leave a few handfuls of homes powered during the PG&E blackouts, with the demand expected to grow along with the new mandate.
“Under these new standards, buildings will perform better than ever, at the same time they contribute to a reliable grid,” said CEC Commissioner Andrew McAllister earlier this year. “The buildings that Californians buy and live in will operate very efficiently while generating their own clean energy. They will cost less to operate, have healthy indoor air and provide a platform for ‘smart’ technologies that will propel the state even further down the road to a low emissions future.”
Existing homes will not be affected by the new mandate and some buildings will receive exceptions due to being in low-light or shaded areas. Local utility districts are also proposing alternatives, such as the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD), have proposed directly connected solar farms in place of installing panels on top of homes.
However those alternatives have been met with derision from the CEC, with SMUD’s program being accused of ignoring their mandate simply for a smaller-scale solar plant.
“Not a lot of people enjoy forced adoption,” said Roger C. Pensky, an alternative energy consultant. “What California is doing with their homes is a smart decision, but there are some who don’t like being forced to do this or have problems with solar energy. Solar panels last two to three decades, sometimes less, sometimes more. And many people don’t want to shell out more down the road like that.”
“It does save money. On electric bills, for an average sized home, it’s $650 a year. Solar panels are paid for after awhile. But many people may buy new than move, so that’s short term thinking here.”
“In general this is a great move, but it will be making new houses more expensive, and in California, with people thinking short-term, they may not want a slightly higher down payment or mortgage payment.”
The housing industry is prepared for this new step in alternative energy in California. But with a short term higher cost and long term savings, all eyes will be on the consumer response.