California approves solar power law for new homes built from 2020

Talal Husseini 6 December 2018 (Last Updated December 6th, 2018 11:27)

The California Building Standards Commission (CBSC) has approved a new solar power law that requires houses built in the state from 2020 to include rooftop solar panels.

California approves solar power law for new homes built from 2020
California has approved a new requirement that houses in the state are built with solar power electric systems from 2020. Credit: Kenji Thuloweit.

The California Building Standards Commission (CBSC) has approved a new solar power law that requires houses built in the state from 2020 to include rooftop solar panels.

The eight members of the CBSC voted unanimously to write the new requirement into the state’s building code, making California the first US state to make it obligatory for solar energy to be installed in single-family and multi-family dwellings, as well as condos and apartment buildings up to three stories.

California Energy Commission executive director Drew Bohan told the CBSC on Tuesday: “While per capita electricity consumption in the US has increased steadily over the last 40 years, California’s per capita consumption has remained flat, due in large measure to building and appliance efficiency standards.

“The new standards presented today will guide the construction of buildings that will continue to keep costs down, better withstand the impacts of climate change, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

The California Energy Commission predicted that the new solar power law will increase the initial costs of housing by $9,500 on average, but could save as much as $19,000 in the long run in energy savings over a 30-year period.

Some in the industry are concerned that electricity costs in the state will rise even further. University of California-Berkeley associate professor at the Haas Business School told CNBC: “You don’t need a mandate here — we already have vast amounts of solar in California. Half of US solar is installed in California, so it’s not at all clear to me you needed the mandate. We’re actually paying other states to take our electricity during daylight hours.”

“We already have some of the highest electricity rates in the country, and this will only be exacerbated by this mandate. As more and more rooftop solar gets installed, that pushes the cost onto all the non-solar customers.”

The solar power law does allow for some new homes to continue running on natural gas, but California is hoping to reduce its gas dependence over time.

Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) vice-president of state affairs Sean Gallagher said: “Today’s unanimous vote was the culmination of more than two years of work by SEIA, its partner organisations and of course policymakers in the Golden State. We hope other states will look at what California has done and consider similar policies to encourage clean and low-cost solar energy.”

California is currently the seventh highest state in terms of electricity prices, with the average cost of electricity at 19.39 cents per KWh in September 2018. The highest electricity prices reached 32.29 cents per KWh in Hawaii, while in Louisiana they were as low as 9.28 cents.

Only 15%-20% of single-family homes in California currently have solar panel installations, according to the California Building Industry Association. Seven cities in California, including San Francisco, already have some form of solar requirement for new buildings.