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In San Francisco, a Solar Array on Every Roof

A top city official will introduce a resolution requiring all new buildings to have a PV array or a garden on the roof

San Francisco's Board of Supervisors will consider a resolution requiring that photovoltaic panels, rooftop gardens, or both be installed on all new buildings in the city.
Image Credit: Nick Schweitzer via Wikimedia Commons

The president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors says that he will propose a resolution requiring all new buildings in the city, both residential and commercial, to include rooftop photovoltaic (PV) arrays where feasible, reports.

There is “potential for sustainability on every single roof in the city,” David Chiu said. He called for PV arrays, rooftop gardens, or both on all new construction in an initiative called “Solar Vision 2020,” which would simultaneously reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the city and benefit the solar industry.

Chiu acknowledged that might not be practical on all buildings. HVAC equipment can take up a lot of space on the roofs of high-rise towers, for example, and some houses don’t lend themselves to rooftop PV installations.

“Certainly for commercial buildings we believe this is absolutely feasible,” he told SFGate. “If it were up to me we would do it on larger residential [buildings] and then see what’s possible on smaller residential. But at this point we need to get the conversation going.”

Solar Vision 2020 has broad goals

Chiu’s proposal contains several other provisions:

  • A San Francisco program that helps homeowners and business owners pay for the installation of solar panels, now scheduled to expire in 2018, would be made permanent.
  • By the year 2020, the capacity of PV installations in the city would double, from its current level of 26 megawatts (MW) to 50 MW.
  • PV arrays with a combined capacity of 2 MW would be installed at “tenant-occupied residences” each year.

The director of the Housing Action Coalition, Tim Colen, didn’t argue with the intent of the initiative. But he said that California already has the toughest standards in the country for new construction and that Chiu’s plan could increase construction costs “at a time when we’ve got a crisis in affordability,” the web site reported.


  1. Expert Member
    Dana Dorsett | | #1

    Affordabilty concerns unwarranted.
    "The director of the Housing Action Coalition, Tim Colen, didn't argue with the intent of the initiative. But he said that California already has the toughest standards in the country for new construction and that Chiu's plan could increase construction costs "at a time when we've got a crisis in affordability," the web site reported"

    Net metered and financed bundled into on a 30 year mortgage (at mortgage type interest rates) rooftop PV makes the construction MORE affordable, not less affordable, at San Fransisco's electricity rates. The combined utility + mortgage costs go down, not up.

    While the anxiety about the is understandable given how recently PV was still viewed as "expensive", everyone who has done the math using current PV costs comes to the same conclusion: It's cheaper than what the utility is charging.

  2. HarrisDwight | | #2

    Re: Affordability concerns
    I may be wrong, but I think part of the affordability concerns come from the ability to qualify for a higher mortgage amount. EEM's are not that popular and conventional mortgages do not consider cost of ownership, just income to debt ratio. Adding solar increases the debt ratio and also increases the cash down. For those already buying at the upper limit it you cannot qualify for the mortgage in the first place.

    San Francisco is already expensive, so it could further price out lower income families.

    Now, if any improvement that decreased the cost of ownership were excluded from those calculations, then that'd solve everything!

  3. jwg01776 | | #3

    Alternatives to outright purchase
    I think the issue of higher mortgage amounts points out the need for some creative solutions here. The underlying assumption is that the cost of a solar array would be lumped in to the overall cost of the house, leading to a higher purchase price. As pointed out, this creates the need for the home buyer to actually purchase the system. However, if you look at what an existing homeowner typically does these days, it's becoming less and less common to make an outright purchase when adding on solar. Instead most homeowners opt for a PPA or if available, leasing a system. The latter is sometimes harder to come by. However, both of these options make adding solar much more financially viable.

    Perhaps the proposal could setup alternative arrangements, establishing a public/private (preferably a non-profit) LLCs to actually own the installed systems and then via leasing or PPA provide those to the homebuyers. This would achieve the desired effect of increasing rollout of solar, without markedly increasing the cost of new housing for the homebuyer.

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