California: First US State To Mandate Solar Power

  Solar panels on a Southern California home / Photo: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

Solar panels on a Southern California home / Photo: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

Yesterday, California became the first US state to require all new homes to be solar powered. In a unanimous vote by the five-member California Energy Commission, the forward-thinking state has mandated that residential buildings up to three stories high, including single-family homes and condos, be built with solar installations from 2020.

Several Californian cities already require that certain new buildings include solar power, or have made other clean energy commitments; New Jersey, Massachusetts and Washington, D.C. have considered legislation requiring new buildings be solar-ready; and Hawaii is among the states that have mandated other energy-efficiency measures, such solar water heaters. But the decision taken by the Californian Commission is by far the most ambitious.

At the end of last year, North America’s most populous state was the nation’s leader in installed solar capacity by some measure. Solar power provides almost 16 per cent of California’s electricity, and the industry employs more than 86,000 workers. California law requires at least 50 per cent of the state’s electricity must come from non-carbon-producing sources by 2030, and solar power has become increasingly important in terms of the growth of the state’s alternative energy production.

  Solar panels being installed at a San Francisco home / Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.

Solar panels being installed at a San Francisco home / Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.

The fact that the new requirement will add thousands of dollars to the cost of a new home – between $8,000 and $12,000 – has led some to question the decision. The state is already one of the most expensive housing markets in the country, and also has an acute shortage of affordable homes. However, state officials and clean-energy advocates say that the extra cost to home buyers will be more than offset by lower energy bills, and the change also has broad support from the construction industry who see solar capability as a selling point.

Of the 80,000 or so new homes built in California every year, approximately 15,000 currently include solar installations. And at the current rate of home building, the new requirement is expected to increase the number of rooftop solar installations annually by 44 per cent.

California has often led the way in terms of US environmental and energy efficiency issues, with other states often following suit. But whether they are influenced in this instance will depend on local weather, access to energy resources and local politics. Abigail Ross Hopper, chief executive of the Solar Energy Industries Association told The Wall Street Journal that California’s action would demonstrate to policy makers in other states that promoting home solar makes sense. “The impact it could have in California and the impact it could have around the country will be significant,” she said. “It’s going to be a really big deal.”

Homepage Image: Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

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