What to Know about California’s New Solar Mandate for 2020


Last Updated: April 2nd, 2021

Guest Post by Kayla Matthews

In December, California became the first state to require new homes to be solar powered. Homes built after 2019 will now be built with energy efficiency in mind. Here are some things you should know about this new mandate:

Does this mandate affect all building types?

The new mandate applies to all residential buildings up to three stories high being built at the beginning of 2020 and beyond. Although it includes apartments, there are some exceptions. If the building is in a shaded area or an area where electricity rates are already lower than the cost of solar power, it could be exempt. There's also the option of having offsite solar production. A developer could build solar arrays to feed power to multiple homes or contract with a utility-owned solar farm.

Will this new mandate make my construction costs higher?

Energy officials estimate that the new mandate will cost homeowners an additional $10,000 when they're building a home. However, the average quote for California homes from EnergySage for solar panels as of January 2019 was $18,180. This price does come before any incentives or tax rebates, but the prices for the new solar panels seem to be roughly estimated for the present.

The best case for homeowners is that the influx in solar panel production and installation will help reduce costs. Currently, only 9 percent of single-family homes have solar panels installed according to the U.S. Department of Energy. With this number rising considerably over the next few years, there should be a reduction in prices across the board.

Will I have to build my new home differently?

The new construction of homes beginning in 2020 will not be changed drastically aside from the installation of rooftop solar panels. However, the new provisions to the green homebuilding standards must also be considered. These requirements include building your home with thicker attic and wall installation, more energy-efficient windows and doors and improved ventilation systems. Also, these new homes will be encouraged to have added battery storage and heat-pump water heaters. California is actively pursuing its goal of net-zero energy, and it might just get there.

How much money will solar panels save me?

Solar industry experts say that the net savings from installing solar panels would be around $500 per year in reduced energy costs. Local and federal tax savings can also reduce the overall cost of solar and put more money in the homeowner’s pocket. As energy storage becomes more advanced, homeowners will benefit, as they'll be able to store and capitalize on their energy in more ways and continue to reduce utility costs.

Will this mandate encourage other states to do the same?

President Trump’s solar tariff has certainly affected the solar industry, but solar companies are adapting. With large-scale initiatives like the one in California, we could see our reliance on foreign trade for solar parts decrease drastically as we become self-sustaining with nationwide buy-in.

As other states watch California play guinea pig, they may notice the benefits and join the movement. Progressive, environmentally minded states in the Northeast and Northwest will likely be the first to join. As the prices for solar begin to decrease, look for other states to follow suit.

California is the ideal place to start a solar initiative — it has abundant sunlight paired with high energy costs. However, that doesn't mean other states wouldn't benefit from a large-scale solar initiative as well.

Could rooftop solar replace natural gas?

Gas companies are making it difficult for homeowners to replace natural gas with electric, but that doesn't mean it's impossible. California’s energy-efficient efforts are far from over, as homeowners generating solar power will now want to reduce their natural gas costs by electrifying all their utilities. Could solar power replace natural gas? Absolutely, but it will not be an easy road.

Is this mandate beneficial to the average homeowner?

The short answer is yes. The first installers of solar will undoubtedly pay more than homeowners have in 15 years, but they'll reap benefits financially (in the long run), economically and environmentally. Every scenario will be unique, and costs will vary, but California is opening the door for other states to make this a priority and reduce the nation’s carbon footprint.

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