California’s new home construction law embraces solar power
Tuesday, May 22, 2018
It’s true that Earth orbits the sun, the largest object in our solar system, which is also a fiery star of intense light that can be harnessed as an alternative energy source.
But we also know that there are many hurdles for the alternative energy sector, although we have seen major growth in the solar and wind power sectors in recent years.
The year 2020 marks a sunny turn for solar enthusiasts in California. That is the year that solar panels are required for all newly constructed single-family homes and small multifamily apartment-style buildings of three stories or less.
When the California Energy Commission voted unanimously to make solar panels mandatory for these construction projects recently, the room was packed to capacity. But there was little debate that this is a good idea.
With climate change as a growing concern, if not a top priority, renewable energy proponents are seeking practical and effective ways to mitigate its worst effects. Enter alternative energy options.
Since it is not always cost-effective in the first instance, government may have to require and enforce environmental measures because private industry won’t. In California, requiring solar panels is a game-changing move with ripple effects.
Currently, California is building 113,000 housing units annually. Only 15 percent of new homes are built with solar.
Obviously, solar panel manufacturers and installation companies will see a huge demand for their products and services — rendering them very friendly to this. In fact, the solar panel installation company, Sunrun, predicts that this move will double its business. In general, it’s estimated that the solar industry will boost sales 14 percent over 4 years.
The construction industry seems friendly about the changes as well — even using solar energy as a new home-selling point. Although this requirement adds $8,000 to $12,000 onto initial housing costs, the returns in savings will come a little later.
It’s speculated that it will take less than a decade for the average new homeowner to pay off the costs of the panels.
New homeowners "forced" into buying homes with solar panels will see that it’s a win-win situation for those concerned with dependency on dirty energy and homeowners who will witness a drop in their electricity bills.
It’s possible that existing homeowners may even see the benefits of solar and install panels: this amounts to a kind of solar panel trickle-down effect.
This requirement comes at a time when California is already facing other moves on the energy regulation scene. Right now, California law states a minimum of 50 percent of the state’s electricity should be extracted from noncarbon-producing sources by 2030. In 2019, California electricity customers will be charged differently based on when they use electricity — peak hours translate to higher bills.
Even though the state leads the way on climate change initiatives, this kind of new regulation is not without its critics.
Some of the most common criticisms of this move include that housing is already expensive and it's silly to raise housing costs when affordability is already a challenge.
Other concerns do not dispute the need to reduce carbon emissions. They simply argue there are cheaper ways to do this. Once solar panels are installed and operating at full capacity, they do not produce any additional emissions reductions.
There is also a concern that not enough research was done before the regulation was adopted.
All that being said, as of now it appears that solar panels will become the new normal in California for any single-family or small multifamily dwellings built in 2020 and afterwards.
As other states and municipalities like New Jersey; Massachusetts; and Washington, D.C., consider similar solar mandates, all eyes are on California’s transition to larger-scale solar usage.
This is not the first time we look to the Golden State for environmental leadership and experimentation, and it certainly won’t be the last.
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