California homes may soon be equipped with solar panels

On May 9, the California Energy Commission will vote regarding a law which would mandate all new residential buildings to have solar panels by 2020. As of now, only 15 to 20 percent of homes in California have solar panels.

If the proposed law is passed, the solar-energy rule will slowly turn buildings into small distributed-power plants. Instead of delivering electricity from centralized fossil fuel power plants, the primary purpose of California’s energy grid is now to move electricity among various distributed solar and wind power generators.

The proposal does not require that the houses reach net-zero status, wherein the solar power completely offsets the amount of energy consumed in a year. However, it does give “compliance credits” for homebuilders who will install storage batteries like Tesla’s Powerwall which lets them build smaller panel arrays knowing that the excess energy will be available for use during off-hours.

The proposed law is seen to increase construction expenses by $25,000 to $30,000. On the other hand, self-produced energy saves owners approximately $50,000 to $60,000 in operating costs over the solar technology’s expected 25-year run.

The law will cover houses, condos, and apartment buildings up to three stories high. However, the city of San Francisco already requires all buildings below ten stories to be equipped with solar panels, following the action of smaller towns like Lancaster and Sebastopol. New Jersey and Minnesota are pursuing heightened reliance on solar power, but none have yet gone as far as the California mandate would.

This will make the state the first to have a solar panel requirement. It is easy to implement it in the area because of constant sunny days and high real estate prices. However, critics complained that it could aggravate California’s housing shortage situation by pricing people out of homes that are available.