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California Becomes the First State to Require Solar Power For New Homes Beginning In the Year 2020

California has taken yet another big step towards going green. The California Energy Commission has adopted a triennial update to standards found within the California Building Standards Code. The 2019 Building Energy Efficiency Standards (2019 Energy Standards) will go into effect on January 1, 2020 and will be published as the California Energy Code, in the California Code of Regulations (Title 24, Part 6).


Requiring Solar Systems

One of the updates in the 2019 Energy Standards that’s getting the most attention is the new building standards requiring solar photovoltaic systems on certain types of housing in California. The 2019 Energy Standards require new homes to include sufficient rooftop solar energy generation to meet the home’s annual electricity consumption. This makes California the first state in the nation to require some type of solar power installed as part of new residential development. The measure was approved unanimously by the California Energy Commission on May 9, 2018, and the new requirement will take effect two years from now, in the year 2020.

Complying with the solar photovoltaic measure involves installing a solar photovoltaic system of a minimum size in all newly constructed low-rise residential buildings permitted on or after January 1, 2020. This includes installation of photovoltaic panels, inverters and necessary wiring. The solar mandate also gives builders the option to install a shared solar grid that serves multiple homes, so that individual solar panels aren’t installed on each and every new home. The new solar mandate applies to new single-family homes and multi-family buildings that are three stories or less. The solar measure will not apply to nonresidential, high-rise residential (four or more habitable stories) or hotel/motel buildings; it also will not apply to additions or alterations to existing buildings.

The Building Industry Association—one with a very real vested interest in the nature of the new regulations—expressed satisfaction with a collaborative process towards workable standards. “With this adoption, the California Energy Commission has struck a fair balance between reducing greenhouse gas emissions while simultaneously limiting increased construction costs,” said California Building Industry Association CEO and President Dan Dunmoyer:


  • We thank the Commissioners and their staff for working with the building industry during the past 18 months and adopting a set of cost-effective standards that ensures homebuyers will recoup their money over the life of the dwelling.


But…At What Cost?

The solar mandate is expected to add an average of $10,000 to the price of new homes, although this cost is expected to be offset by savings on monthly energy costs. The California Energy Commission estimates the new standards will increase the cost of a 30-year mortgage by approximately $40 per month, but will result in a savings of $80 per month on heating, cooling and lighting bills. Many have noted that this increase in home prices is significant in light of California’s existing housing affordability problems. But for the most part, it seems like the building and construction industry supports the mandate. Many new residential developments already include or offer solar systems for new homes. Plus, providing solar could serve as an attractive selling point for environmentally conscious consumers.


Greenhouse Gas Emission Reduction Estimates

The new mandate is expected to lower reliance on fossil fuels, which will result in significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. The California Energy Commission estimates that the 2019 Energy Standards will result in a net reduction in the emissions of nitrous oxide by approximately 225,000 pounds per year, sulfur oxides by 590 pounds per year, carbon monoxide by 61,000 pounds per year, and particulate matter by 7,400 pounds per year. Statewide greenhouse gas emissions are expected to be reduced by an amount equal to 493 million pounds of carbon dioxide annually.


Conclusion and Implications

This new solar mandate is a historic plan and reinforces California’s role as a global and national leader in clean energy and climate policy. Other states in the country will likely watch as California’s newest green effort unfolds, and they can be expected to follow suit by taking a closer look at their own renewable energy options.

The new rules must still be approved by the California Building Standards Commission later this year. More information about the 2019 Building Energy Efficiency Standards is available on the California Energy Commission’s website:

(Nedda Mahrou)