New 2020 Solar Regulations

As Californians ring in the new year on January 1st, they’ll see several new laws take effect, perhaps none of which will be as visible or as important as the new building regulation that will make California the first state in the nation to require virtually all newly constructed single family homes and apartments to have solar systems. “The adoption of these standards represents a quantum leap,” said Bob Raymer, senior engineer for the California Building Industry Association.

Currently just 9% of single-family homes in California have solar panels. But as the state pushes toward decreasing greenhouse gas emissions—and with a state law that will require at least 50 percent of the state’s electricity to come from noncarbon-producing sources by 2030, and a 2045 goal to transition to a fully renewable energy grid devoid of fossil fuels—this change to the state building regulations will help accelerate that progress. Aside from energy efficiency, solar panels reduce ozone-damaging household emissions, most of which come from natural gas-generated electricity. The new building code will apply to single-family homes and to apartment and condominium complexes of three stories or less, with exceptions for buildings that lack adequate space or that are blocked from receiving sunlight.

Solar installations have become so cost effective that they are included in more than 15,000 homes built each year in California, even without the directive from the state. In 2020 and beyond that number is expected to to increase to 80,000, the number of homes built each year in the state. Crucial in moving the proposal forward was a finding that solar power would be cost effective in all climate zones in the state. The average estimated cost of a solar system is $9,500, or $40 a month when amortized over a 30-year mortgage, which some opponents said was very problematic, considering that a lack of affordable housing is one of California’s most pressing issues. But the systems are projected to save customers an average of $80 a month, or almost $30,000 over 30 years on their utility bills, making solar systems not only an important means of reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the state, but also a great long term investment for homeowners, and State officials and clean-energy advocates say the extra cost to home buyers will be more than made up in lower energy bills.

That prospect has won over even the construction industry, which has embraced solar capability as a selling point. The new building regulation is very timely as people consider energy alternatives in the wake of recent state-wide “Public Safety Power Shutoffs” conducted by PG&E, and homeowners may also decide to install battery storage as part of their system, which will also give energy credits to their homes that employ the storage technology. “This adoption of these standards represents a quantum leap,” Bob Raymer, senior engineer for the California Building Industry Association, said during the public comments before the vote. “You can bet every state will be watching to see what happens.”