The California Energy Commission is expected to approve the new rule when it votes this week, making California the first state in the country to require that new houses come with photovoltaic panels.
“California is about to take a quantum leap in energy standards,” Bob Raymer, technical director for the California Building Industry Association, told The Mercury-News. “No other state in the nation mandates solar, and we are about to take that leap.”
Assuming the proposal is approved, single-family houses, condos and apartment buildings of three stories or less permitted after Jan. 1, 2020 would have to include solar panels. Currently, between 15% and 20% of new single-family homes are equipped with solar.
Amber Beck, a spokeswoman for the Energy Commission, said by telephone the solar panel provision is part of a regular update of the Building Energy Efficiency Standards, also called Title 24, that also will toughen requirements for insulation and indoor air quality. She said the rated capacity of the panels would be tied to the size of the house, with a single-family home getting a system of between 2.5 kW and 4 kW on average.
Builders, however, would be able to lower the size of the array by including other efficiency features in the house.
A decade ago, the commission adopted a goal of making all new houses capable of operating at zero-net energy after 2020 (it is on the books as an objective, not a legal requirement), but one of five commissioners who will be voting on Wednesday said that doesn’t go far enough. “Zero net energy isn’t enough,” said Andrew McAllister.
Exceptions in the new policy would cover houses that are shaded by trees or buildings as well as houses whose roofs are too small to accommodate panels. Builders who install batteries would get compliance credits allowing them to reduce the capacity of the solar arrays. Other provisions will encourage wider use of electricity to reduce the consumption of natural gas.
C.R. Herro, vice president of environmental affairs for Meritage Homes, said the revised energy standards would add between $25,000 and $30,000 to the cost of a new house — between $14,000 and $16,000 of that in solar, and the balance in upgrades to windows, appliances, lighting and heating. However, homeowners would see savings of between $50,000 and $60,000 over the 25-year life of their solar panels.
Environmentalists were pleased with the prospect for wider adoption of solar, but at least one builder was not. Bill Watt, a homebuilder and design consultant, said the new energy provisions on top of other state building requirements are making houses too expensive in a state that already has a housing shortage.
“We’re not building enough housing already,” said Watt, former president of the Orange County Building Industry Association. “Why not just pause for a little while, focus on the affordability and housing issues, then circle back?”
The states’s energy code is updated every three years.