If other states follow the California proposal to require solar on all new home builds, the United States could have three times as much solar power as it does now, reckon analysts at Environment America who have produced a new report on the issue.
Installing solar panels on all new US homes built from 2020 to 2026 would result in more solar energy capacity than the entire country currently has installed, the analysts say. “By 2045, installations on new homes would total 203 gigawatts, or 3.5 times as much solar capacity as the nation currently has installed,” the authors calculate.
The new California solar home standards are expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from 2020 to 2023 by the equivalent of taking 115,000 cars off the road, the report observes. Under the new standards, homeowners are expected to save $19,000 over 30 years, it estimates. The average single-family home in the United States would need over 9 kilowatts of solar panels to meet its electricity usage versus the average home solar system size installed during 2017 of 7.4 kW, the report calculates.
Other states most likely to emulate the solar home requirement in California include, in order of potential additional solar impact: Florida, North Carolina, Georgia, Arizona, South Carolina, Washington, Colorado, and Tennessee.
“We looked at the benefits that this sort of requirement across the states would create, and also see a transformation of the current residential solar market,” says Bret Fanshaw, the Go Solar Campaign director with Environment America Research & Policy Center, in Denver. “What would take place is more partnerships between homebuilders and solar manufacturers, and an elimination of the current marketing and sales process for retrofitting solar on a home,” he explains.
Eliminating the marketing effort would save both installers and buyers money. The cost of acquiring a residential solar retrofit is rising, and that cost is built into the sales price, the report says. Currently, so-called “soft costs” make up nearly two-thirds of rooftop solar energy’s price tag, so reducing these costs would have a large impact on reducing solar energy’s overall cost, the report says.
Soft costs include building permits and other regulatory requirements, marketing, sales, and other non-hardware expenses. “Right now, identifying and acquiring customers is one of the largest expenses for many rooftop solar installers, but partnerships with home builders could nearly eliminate this cost,” the report suggests.
Consumers also are increasingly wary of wide variations in contract costs among different solar system vendors. So such marketing and sales issues that concern consumers would be resolved by the homebuilder and its relationship with the manufacturers directly.
A 2018 National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) study found that these advancements in the relationship between homebuilders and solar system manufacturers could collectively reduce the price of solar systems by 59%, the report notes. “In states with pro-solar policies, homeowners with solar energy can save between $10,000 to $30,000 over a 20-year period,” the report suggests. Installing solar panels during construction lowers solar energy’s cost and leads to additional savings, it points out.
Another benefit of such a requirement for solar is the improvement to air quality. “Adding solar energy to new homes would offset the use of fossil fuel-powered energy sources and cut 2017 carbon dioxide emissions from U.S. electricity generation by more than 9% annually by 2045,” say the writers. “A solar homes requirement would cut an estimated 161 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent during 2045 – equivalent to taking more than 34 million of today’s (carbon fueled) cars off of the road,” they say.
Starting in 2020, the state of California will require new single-family homes, and multi-family homes up to three stories, to install solar photovoltaic systems, the report summarizes. Homes that cannot effectively accommodate solar panels due to shading from adjacent structures, such as buildings and trees, are exempt from the requirement, the report notes. This requirement is part of the California Energy Commission’s 2019 Building Energy Efficiency Standards, which also ramp up energy efficiency requirements for buildings.
The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) conservatively estimates that the California solar home requirement will add an additional 800 MW of solar PV capacity in the state from 2020 to 2023, resulting in about 200 MW per year on average, the report says. This is more than a 23% increase from the 858 MW of residential solar energy deployed in the state in 2017, mostly on existing homes, it adds.