What California’s solar move means for you

By John David Baldwin on June 15, 2018

California’s position as a leader in solar adoption is mirrored by its primary role in the American economy at large. The size of the California’s economy means the standards it puts into place can have tremendous influence on markets across the country. That’s why the California Energy Commission (CEC)’s recent decision to require the installation of solar on most newly constructed residences is so interesting. The move has given policy wonks an opportunity to discuss the wisdom of the ruling (see Dave Roberts excellent summary in Vox). Beyond the academic discussion, an intriguing part of the new ruling is the impact it could have on new home construction across the country.

“One of the reasons why incorporating solar into new construction is so smart is because the architects and designers are able to build for solar from the ground up,” said Bernadette Del Chiaro, Executive Director of the California Solar + Storage Association (formerly CALSEIA). “They can maximize the west- and south-facing slopes of the roofs and they can minimize protrusions on the west and south that break up the solar array.”

The U.S. Department of Energy has developed a list of things to take into account when constructing a building for solar. These include the angle and orientation of the roof, as well as placement of dormers and chimneys that add shading to the roof. Below the roof, builders should also consider how they wire the home so that the electrical panel is easily connectable to the system.

Del Chiaro also noted that the solar mandate might well cause the solar panels themselves to change, as this would tend to spur innovations in efficiency and design, as well as more simplified installation.

Alex McDonough, Vice President of Public Policy at SunRun, was particularly pleased by the prospect of new architecture specifically designed to accommodate solar, saying that this “would be great,” because it would make his job as an installer easier.

Even without other states adopting a similar mandate, homeowners across the country are likely to see solar-ready home construction proliferate. Del Chiaro noted that many years ago California mandated double-pained windows. “Today, no one could even imagine building a home with less efficient windows.” Del Chiaro said.