California to vote on solar-for-all-new-homes rule

Faith Castro
May 10, 2018

"This is a landmark vote today", said David Hochschild, one of CEC's five commissioners who unanimously approved the measure that was part of a revision to California's Building Efficiency Standards, which are updated every three years.

Just 9 percent of single-family detached homes in the state of 39.5 million people now have solar panels, according to a 2017 U.S. Department of Energy report the Energy Commission cited. The price of solar has dropped dramatically in recent years.

The approved requirement is expected to give a strong lift to California's already hot solar market. It came despite estimates it would raise the up-front cost of a new home by almost $10,000 in one of the most expensive parts of the country. They would still have to draw some of their electricity from the power grid.

"This is going to be an important step forward for our state to continue to lead the clean energy economy", said Kelly Knutsen, director of technology advancement for the California Solar and Storage Association.

"We can not let Californians be in homes that are essentially the residential equivalent of gas guzzlers", Commissioner David Hochschild said ahead of the vote.

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Representatives of the construction, utility and solar industries all helped develop the new standard, and no industry groups spoke in opposition Wednesday. In all, the new residential requirements are expected to make a single-family house $9,500 more expensive to build on average, but save $19,000 in reduced utility bills over a 30-year period, according to the Energy Commission.

Lynn Jurich, co-founder of solar installation company Sunrun, told the New York Times that large market expansions like this make it "very cost effective to do". The mandate could require between 68 and 241 MW of annual distributed solar buildout, according to ClearView Energy Partners' research using 2017 data.

For more than a decade, the commission has been operating under goals that would provide "net-zero" energy for new residents by 2020 and for new commercial buildings a decade later.

"You can have a third party come in and install and maintain those solar panels", he says, "so they end up paying for themselves over time".

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