April 14, 2024

A new California solar mandate will take effect in January 2020 that requires all newly constructed California homes containing less than three stories to be built with a solar energy system.

The California solar mandate was first approved by the California Building Standards Commission in December 2018. This new solar standard aims to help California reach its goals outlined in the Clean Energy and Pollution Reduction Act, which states California will increase the use of clean energy to 50 percent of the state’s electrical energy usage by 2030.

Supporters of the new solar mandate view it as a positive step toward increasing the use of clean, renewable energy and reducing the use of fossil fuels.

“It is good for the environment because we are limiting the amount of fossil fuels we need to use, and we are able to extract energy that is available to us during the day without having to do a thing,” said Dr. Michael Nalbandian, assistant professor of civil engineering and construction management.

According to Nalbandian, those who support the standard also argue that solar panels are a good long-term investment for homeowners. However, those who oppose the new solar regulations fear they will make houses unaffordable for those looking to buy a new home.

“I do not agree with the government mandate, but I also do not think solar is necessarily a bad thing,” said Luiz Valdez, junior civil engineering major. “While solar is a natural method of obtaining energy, it is expensive. Due to its high cost, though, I do not agree with the mandate.”

According to the California Energy Commission (CEC), building homes with a solar electric system will add about $8,000 to $10,000 to the initial cost of each house. 

Those who support the mandate argue that despite this increase the use of solar energy will decrease homeowners’ electricity bills by about $80 each month, according to the CEC. Compared with the estimated $40 increase in monthly mortgage payments due to the higher housing price, the installation of a solar energy system should help homeowners save net about $40 per month.

However, according to a study by the National Association for Home Builders, a $1,000 increase in the cost of a new home would make an additional 127,560 households in the United States unable to purchase a home. This number of households would only grow with the $8,000 to $10,000 the solar mandate will add to the cost of homes, which could lead to home-buyers not being able to purchase newly constructed houses in California.

“A better alternative is for California to provide more incentives for homeowners to voluntarily choose solar panels rather than be required to,” said Raymond Curran, junior civil engineering major. “Even so, this mandate is a step in the right direction because it is both economically beneficial and environmentally friendly.”

The mandate allows for some exceptions to its regulations through the CEC. Houses that have a small roof or do not receive enough sunlight might not have to include a solar electricity system. In addition, a house that contains a solar battery and other energy-efficient building designs can have a smaller solar energy system installed. 

The standard also allows developers to work with utility companies to build approved community solar energy systems rather than building solar panels on individual properties. This community method could lower the initial cost of houses.

Although California is the first state to create a solar mandate, Nalbandian feels that other states might follow in years to come, depending on the results of the California solar mandate.

“We have this set quality of life now in the 21st century where we have cars, phones, and a whole bunch of electronics,” Nalbandian said. “It is either we stop using cars, phones and electronics or we try to manage our emissions and pollutants while we still use them. (Solar panels are) an easy technology we can implement to help with gaining electricity without having to emit carbon dioxide or any of our combustion pollutants.”

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